Switzerland offers Biden its 'good offices'

Swiss Federal president Guy Parmelin, right, greets US president Joe Biden, ahead of bilateral talks on the sidelines of the US - Russia summit in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Credits KEYSTONE / Alessandro Della Valle)

The chief of the White House and the Swiss president Guy Parmelin had their first encounter on Tuesday, where they discussed how they could strengthen collaboration on issues including multilateralism, cybersecurity, vaccines and conflict resolution.

Swiss president Guy Parmelin highlighted his country’s “long tradition of good offices” as a neutral party when meeting US President Joe Biden on Tuesday, one day before the long-awaited encounter between the US and Russia.

Accompanied by their respective heads of foreign affairs Ignazio Cassis and Antony Blinken, the two heads of state met at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva for about an hour, where they discussed pressing global issues including the much needed vaccines to end the Covid pandemic, a green recovery and the need to strengthen multilateralism after four years of undermining efforts from the previous Trump administration.

The meeting, which was held in a “very friendly atmosphere” according to Parmelin, was a chance for Switzerland to offer their services in any peace negotiations where they might be needed.

Regarding a potential US-Russia prisoner swap that the US hopes to address during talks on Wednesday, Parmelin recalled that “Switzerland was prepared to provide help in an exchange of prisoners”.

In another main point of discussion, Switzerland expressed its willingness to help improve US-Iran relations, to which the US replied with its intentions to support the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement, a payment mechanism launched in 2020 to enable the delivery of humanitarian goods to Iran through a secure payment channel with a Swiss bank.

The Palestine-Israel conflict was also one of the topics that Switzerland had hoped to address during the meeting but there wasn’t enough time, the Swiss President regretted.

Human rights were discussed in a global manner by the delegations but specific cases including that of incarcerated whistleblower Julian Assange and imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were not mentioned.

Referring to the meeting between the US and Russian presidents, Parmelin said that he hoped the talks between the two countries would be “constructive” and that the fact that they were even speaking was a “positive” step.

What to expect from the summit. Geneva is the last stop in Biden’s overseas tour, in what has been described as the official US comeback on the international stage. The chief of the White House is expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at Villa La Grange in an attempt to stabilise relations between the two powers.

The Swiss officials gave some hints about what they will discuss with the Russian delegation tomorrow, with the Russian-backed peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to feature prominently.

Parmelin said that the summit was a chance for the US and Russian presidents to “impart some optimism and hope” into international politics and said that Switzerland stood ready to support any further efforts between the two nations.