Swiss President Guy Parmelin has underlined the importance of bilateral relations after a “cordial” meeting with US President Joe Biden. Parmelin also called Wednesday’s US-Russia meeting a “sign of hope”.This content was published on June 15, 2021 - 19:23
Biden arrived in Geneva on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of the summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin. He used the time to hold a meeting with Parmelin, who holds Switzerland’s rotating presidency this year, and Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.
Speaking at a post-talks press conference on Tuesday evening – which Biden did not attend – Parmelin first addressed the Wednesday summit. The meeting is a “sign of hope” after the coronavirus pandemic, he said. The Swiss president hoped for “constructive talks” between the sides.
Moving onto the bilateral Swiss-US discussions, Parmelin said that Biden was very interested in cooperation with top Swiss universities. A Memorandum of Understanding on education and training could on the cards by the end of the year, he said.
The presidents also spoke about trade relations, with Switzerland reminding the US that it wanted to continue preliminary talks on a trade accord which has been mooted for some years now. Parmelin said he stressed to Biden the advantages, both for economic development and for legal certainty, of such a deal, and that he expected an answer from the US "in the next months".
Swiss on the global stage
Foreign Minister Cassis underlined Switzerland’s important role on the world stage. “We have to take on global challenges,” he told reporters. This means Swiss good offices which Switzerland has taken on for the US and Iran, and in particular the humanitarian side. “It is important that we continue on this path,” he said.
Cassis said Biden had thanked Switzerland for its good offices role in Iran and “was prepared to support” the humanitarian channel which the Alpine nation operates to get goods – especially medical goods – into the Middle East country, which is the target of considerable US and international sanctions.
Despite the positive words, it hasn’t all been plain sailing in Swiss-US relations of late. In April, Biden surprised Bern with his decision to single out Switzerland as a fiscal paradise in his State of the Union annual address to Congress. In response to a journalist’s question, Parmelin said it was explained that Switzerland keeps to OECD rules, but otherwise the tax issue wasn’t addressed in the hour-long meeting.
The word “paradise” was indeed mentioned during the discussions, but not in relation to taxes, Parmelin joked.
Eagerly awaited arrival
Biden’s arrival earlier in the afternoon was eagerly anticipated in Geneva. Parmelin was on hand to welcome him after the US president emerged from Air Force One.
On Wednesday Biden will head to his highly anticipated summit with his Russian counterpart Putin. The summit will take place at an 18th century villa in the La Grange park near the lakeside. Security is tight. The agenda of US-Russian talks has not been revealed.
The summit is quite a diplomatic coup for Geneva – and for neutral Switzerland.