By Daniel Warner*
Switzerland is suddenly featuring front and centre on the United States’ diplomatic radar. There are several possible explanations.
Just in the last 18 days, the Swiss President was invited to the Oval Office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a Swiss tour and former top American diplomat Henry Kissinger as well as presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner attended the exclusive Bilderberg Meeting in Montreux.
I will not exaggerate that Trump, Pompeo and the Joint Chiefs of Staff wake up every morning wondering what their Swiss counterparts are doing. So why the sudden activity between the US and Switzerland? Here are some possible explanations.
The new United States ambassador in Bern, Ed McMullen, is owed some favours for his efforts. He was a big supporter a political strategist for the US president during the 2016 campaign. Nothing like having the US Secretary of State casually visiting Swiss parliament in Bern with the Ambassador close behind to confirm that McMullen has President Trump’s ear and is a voice to be reckoned with concerning US-Swiss relations. Never mind that the US Senate has yet to confirm an ambassador to the international organisations in Geneva. McMullen has taken centre stage within the diplomatic community in Bern and has become the voice of America in Switzerland.
US tensions with Iran are on the rise. Military equipment and personnel are on their way to the region. National Security Advisor John Bolton continues to sabre-rattle towards some regime change in Tehran. The United States invoked harsh sanctions on Iran and has stopped sanction waivers for countries importing Iranian oil. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been declared a terrorist organisation by the US.
What better way to show a more diplomatic side than to speak with the Swiss who represent American interests in Iran? What a coup for Trump if the Swiss were able to get five American captives in Iran freed. And who better to negotiate than the Swiss, the traditional intermediary since the hostage crisis of 1979? Bolton – who was in the Oval Office with Trump and Maurer – is the bad guy, while Pompeo is the good guy with the Swiss willing to play the good guy role. Remember how Pompeo said the US would talk to the Iranians with no pre-conditions? A scoop in Switzerland! And, didn’t Swiss Foreign Minister Cassis talk about humanitarian relief to the people suffering in Iran during his press conference with Pompeo? Peace and love in the Alps.
The United States and Switzerland have been negotiating a free trade deal for some time. Pompeo repeated its importance during his visit, emphasising that Switzerland is the seventh-largest investor in the United States. Although the trade deal seems like it won’t happen overnight, there is no question that these talks touched on the subject.
And Venezuela? For the moment, there has been no confirmation that Switzerland will represent American interests in the political turmoil there. A recent discussion was held in Oslo, confirming the Norwegian government’s interest in participating as an intermediary. But there is no question that Switzerland has proposed to represent the United States, so it’s another possible reason for the American interest.
On a much lighter note, perhaps Mrs. Pompeo just wanted to spend some time with her husband and do some shopping. After all, the US Secretary of State has been very busy with China, and after visiting Germany, there was some time left before trips to the Netherlands and London where discussions will be tense, to say the least. A quick trip to Switzerland, some nostalgia in the Ticino about Pompeo’s family, a stop-off at Bilderberg, and off we go. Why not?
We may never know the full story behind the flurry of US-Swiss activity; maybe all of the above are true. But in any case, there is no question that Switzerland is very much on the United States’ radar.
*Daniel Warner is a Swiss-American political scientist and former Deputy to the Director, Graduate Institute, Geneva.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.