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Schmid underlines Swiss Afghanistan position

Samuel Schmid (left) and Gordon England go into the Pentagon Keystone

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid has wrapped up his three-day visit to the United States, where he held talks on international defence issues.

This content was published on April 14, 2007 - 14:02

Despite a US appeal earlier this week to Nato countries for reinforcements in Afghanistan, Schmid said he had ruled out sending extra Swiss troops to the troubled area.

Discussions with his US counterpart Robert Gates and the number two at the Pentagon, Gordon England, had been constructive and had taken place in a friendly atmosphere, said Schmid at the end of his visit on Friday.

Gates had just returned from a meeting in Quebec, Canada, where he renewed his call to the Nato allies to share the burden in Afghanistan. He said he expected a renewed Taliban offensive in the spring.

Nato currently has 35,000 soldiers in the country, of which 23,000 are from the US or Britain. Both countries have said they cannot provide more troops, due to their engagement in Iraq.

France, Canada, Germany and Italy have all indicated they are unwilling to send more personnel. Only Australia has offered to double its forces.

Neutral Switzerland, although not a member of Nato, is part of its Partnership for Peace (PfP). At present it has two military personnel assigned to the organisation's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Speaking after the meetings with Gates and England, Schmid said that Bern did not envisage sending any reinforcements to Afghanistan.

"It is not possible to reinforce our contingent and it moreover would not be realistic because reinforcements need equipment and air transport means that Switzerland does not have," Schmid told swissinfo.

No to Balkans

Switzerland will also not be sending any more troops to other hotspots, such as Kosovo and the Balkans, where the US fears that ethnic tensions are resurging. Around 400 Swiss military personnel are already stationed in the area.

"Our policy is to stabilise the size of our contingents and to discuss the legal basis for deployments abroad with parliament," said the minister.

But Schmid did say that Switzerland could envisage increasing its contribution in the form of civilian assistance.

"Switzerland is ready to do more, but there are several ways of doing more and Switzerland is perhaps more experienced on the civilian front rather than the military one," he said.

Schmid underlined that the resolution of conflicts required a combination of military and civilian approaches, notably "to give young people a future".

He therefore believes that training police officers in the Balkans would be a "new area of commitment" for Switzerland.

"The question does not concern the quantity but the quality of what one does," said Schmid.

"Our American friends accept our position by having a good understanding of the Swiss standpoint and by respecting the civilian aid that we bring."

swissinfo, based on a French article by Marie-Christine Bonzom in Washington

Other visit highlights

Samuel Schmid also met US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for talks on fighting terrorism and crisis management.

On Thursday Schmid visited the Nasa space centre in Houston, as well as a Coast Guard base and a National Guard base.

He also met former US President George Bush – father of the current president – to talk about international relations issues, including Iran, Japan and Russia.

Schmid hailed Bush senior as "very switched on, very interested and very up-to-date on the topics", who spoke "both like a diplomat and a former head of state". The minister said that Bush knew a lot about Switzerland as well. "We gained a lot from his great experience," said Schmid.

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