Swiss minister disappointed her govt was not invited to Israel's anniversary

5th May 2008, Comments 0 comments

Foreign Minister expressed disappointment that no member of her government was invited to attend the celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary.

5 May 2008

BERN - Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has expressed disappointment that no member of her country's government is invited to attend the celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary, according to a Swiss newspaper.

Switzerland will be represented at the festivities through its ambassador in Tel Aviv, she told the weekly Sonntag, published Sunday.

"But, personally, I am disappointed that our country was not invited at government level," she was quoted as saying.

Officials at the Israeli Embassy in the Swiss capital, Bern, and at the United Nations in Geneva could not be reached for comment.

Israel's President Shimon Peres has invited heads of state, ministers, scientists, philosophers and artists for a three-day conference to mark the Jewish state's 60th birthday this month.

Among those invited are U.S. President George W. Bush, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, former Czech President Vaclev Havel and Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia, a country that has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

The relationship between Israel and Switzerland has been strained since a recent visit by Calmy-Rey to Iran to witness the signing of a multibillion-dollar ( -euro) natural gas supply contract between Swiss company EGL and Iran's state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Company.

The deal prompted angry reactions from Jewish groups because Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has often called for the destruction of Israel. Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, said that by signing the gas deal, Switzerland sent the wrong message at the wrong time.

In the interview with Sonntag, Calmy-Rey defended the deal by saying every state has the right to pursue its economic interests and that Switzerland is not the only country to buy Iranian oil and gas.

She also reaffirmed Switzerland's commitment to talking to all parties in the Middle East conflict.

"Switzerland has never taken sides, neither in the Middle East conflict nor anywhere else in the world," Sonntag quoted her as saying.

Calmy-Rey has supported the so-called "Geneva Accord" - an alternative Middle East initiative worked out after two years of Swiss-funded secret negotiations between Israeli opposition figures and Palestinians.

The deal would have mapped out borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, but it was never officially endorsed by either side.

"As a neutral state we talk to everyone," Calmy-Rey was quoted by Sonntag as saying.
She said Switzerland would continue to condemn breaches of international humanitarian law.

"Particularly Israel, with its painful history, should understand and appreciate that," she said, according to Sonntag.

In March, Switzerland was the only European member of the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council to vote in favour of a resolution condemning Israeli military action in Gaza that resulted in the death of more than 120 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

The military raids were prompted by Palestinian militant groups escalating their rocket fire into Israel.

Switzerland said at the time it wanted to send a strong signal to Israel about the "particular gravity of the events in the southern part of Israel and Gaza".

[AP / Expatica]

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