Geneva returns to diplomatic scene

Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton are set to exchange a range of opinions in Geneva

On Friday Geneva will host a summit between American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

This content was published on March 5, 2009 - 21:33

Clinton will also discuss various issues with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey. A Swiss political scientist tells swissinfo what is at stake during these encounters.

Daniel Warner from the Geneva-based School of Diplomacy and International Relations says that although Clinton's arrival and the US's multilateral attitude is a "very positive sign", many hurdles remain to be overcome.

swissinfo: Why is this summit being held in Geneva?

Daniel Warner: This meeting comes ahead of the G20 financial crisis summit in London on April 2, which will be attended by the countries' respective presidents, Dmitri Medvedev and Barack Obama.

It was suggested by Russia, which has a close relationship with Geneva. For years the post of director-general of the United Nations in Geneva has been held by a Russian [currently Sergei Ordzhonikidze].

Geneva was also the scene of the famous summit in 1985 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. Don't forget that Geneva also hosted negotiations on Georgia after its conflict with Russia in August.

swissinfo: What will be discussed?

D.W.: Clinton and Lavrov will be able to tackle a series of tricky dossiers, for example the Middle East and the US's antimissile shield in Europe. They could also broach the issue of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), signed by Washington and Moscow, which expires in December.

The meeting could also give a boost to the Conference on Disarmament, which has been at a standstill for many years owing to a lack of agreement among the participating states on a working programme. On Saturday Lavrov will address the conference, which has been held in Geneva since 1979.

Iran is also set to be on the agenda. Obama has in effect asked Medvedev to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for reconsidering the US's anti-missile defence system in Europe.

swissinfo: What can be expected from the meeting between Clinton and Micheline Calmy-Rey?

D.W.: First of all you have to remember that Switzerland is concerned with its dossiers, since it represents US interests in Iran and Russian interests in Georgia.

The meeting should also enable the two countries to discuss the US's participation at the UN racism summit (Durban II) being held in Geneva at the end of April. Although the US has criticised the content of the conference's final declaration, it hasn't closed the door to subsequent participation.

If there's enough time, Calmy-Rey could also bring up the US's candidature of the UN Human Rights Council [in 2007 the US State Department said, for the second year in a row, that the US would not seek a seat on the council, asserting the body had lost its credibility with repeated attacks on Israel and a failure to confront other rights abusers].

swissinfo: The return of the US onto the multilateral scene has inspired great hope at the heart of International Geneva. Is this optimism justified?

D.W.: President Obama has said he will be much more multilateral than his predecessor. It remains to be seen what that means concretely, but Clinton's arrival in Geneva is a very positive sign, as is the possible kick-start of the Conference on Disarmament.

However, the blocked Doha round of the World Trade Organization negotiations and the problems connected to the preparation of the racism conference – as well as those concerning the Human Rights Council – show we're not out of the woods yet.

swissinfo: Is the role of International Geneva linked to Swiss neutrality?

D.W.: The Cold War ended a long time ago and this dimension has lost its significance. However, the role of Swiss good offices in Iran and Georgia is increasingly appreciated.

Still, the problems of UBS [Switzerland's biggest bank has accepted responsibility for helping thousands of Americans hide assets from the US government but has rejected requests to divulge the names of all US citizens who maintain secret accounts with the bank] must not end up harming this image of Geneva and of Switzerland.

swissinfo-interview: Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

International Geneva

Geneva is home to the headquarters of 22 international organisations, such as the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and International Committee of the Red Cross.

The city is the European seat of the United Nations.

"International Geneva", as it is known, is worth around SFr5 billion ($4.3 billion) a year to the canton.

In all some 40,000 international diplomats and civil servants are based in Geneva; in addition there are around 2,400 staff working for non-governmental organisations.

Around 8,500 staff work for the United Nations family in Geneva, which is the largest concentration of UN personnel in the world.

Geneva's international role is not new; following the First World War it became home to the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation.

End of insertion

Good offices

Good offices are initiatives taken by a third party to stop litigation or make contact easier between two conflicting parties. More generally it refers to any initiative or contribution that encourages peace and international cooperation.

As a neutral country, Switzerland has made good offices one of the pillars of its foreign policy. These can take different forms, for example organising international conferences, representing the interests of a foreign state and playing host to international organisations.

A protecting power mandate is required if two states break off diplomatic ties. Switzerland carried out such mandates since World War I but there has been less of a need for the mandates in recent years. At present Switzerland has four such mandates in place: representing the United States in Cuba, Cuba in the US, Iran in Egypt and the US in Iran.

End of insertion

Articles in this story

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.