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Westerwelle offers "close friendship"

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has visited his Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey and said he is looking for an amicable new diplomatic beginning.

Relations hit a low earlier in the year after former German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück aroused considerable anger in Switzerland by making various comments about the country's banking secrecy, most notably in March when he said the Swiss were like "Indians" running scared at the sight of the US cavalry.

That prompted one parliamentarian to say Steinbrück reminded him of the "generation of Germans who marched through the streets in leather coats, boots and armbands".

The idea was taken up in the media, who started referring to "the German question" of how many Germans Switzerland could tolerate. Stereotypes and negative comments from readers also abounded on internet sites referring to "nasty Germans".

On Thursday in Bern however Westerwelle spoke of a "historically developed relationship" and said that his visit to Switzerland so soon after his election – he assumed office on October 28 – was no coincidence.

"The German government wants to let Switzerland know that we value this friendship and that we want to intensify it and build on it," he said.

He acknowledged that there were issues to be overcome – such as tax and aeroplane noise – but said these had to be discussed in a proper manner.

He added that he was confident that current negotiations between the two countries on a double taxation agreement and noise pollution from Zurich airport could be successfully concluded. and agencies


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