- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

GENEVA Switzerland, in its first act upon joining the United Nations after a 56-year holdout, demanded yesterday that any military action against Iraq be authorized by the U.N. Security Council.

As Swiss President Kaspar Villiger and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan marked the Alpine nation's move away from its traditional isolationism at a ceremony in New York, Swiss officials said their embrace of multilateralism should set an example for the United States.

"We have come to realize that in today's world multilateral diplomacy is much more important than bilateral relations," one official in Geneva, which hosts the U.N. European headquarters, said in an interview.

The Swiss, who voted by a narrow margin to become a U.N. member in March, have begun to question their "traditional mentality" because "we are finding that we are more exposed to different dangers than we thought," the official said.

Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss echoed those comments at a press conference in New York yesterday.

"The United Nations is not perfect, as we all know, but as an organization its role is more vital than ever," he said. "Unilateralism and isolationism lead nowhere. This is just as true for big countries as for smaller ones."

Mr. Villiger insisted that the "principle of neutrality, which is deeply rooted in Switzerland, will retain its validity," but he noted that the neutrality "is in no way self-serving."

"There is no neutrality in the face of crime," he said at the ceremony. "Neutrality is an instrument that can contribute in its own way to the achievement of common values and goals."

Hours before Switzerland officially became the 190th U.N. member, the Foreign Ministry in Bern, the capital, said that any military action against Iraq should occur "in respect of Iraqi territorial integrity, and taking account of the regional situation and of local populations."

"The use of force could only take place after having exhausted all diplomatic avenues and must be decided by the U.N. Security Council," said the ministry's spokeswoman, Miriam Berset-Kohen.

Switzerland usually has no trouble opposing various U.S. positions, although it considers itself a friend of the United States. Last month, it rejected Washington's request to sign a bilateral agreement exempting U.S. officials and soldiers from the new International Criminal Court (ICC).

"Our position is not anti-American, but a matter of principle," the official in Geneva said. "We dare to speak up among friends. During the Cold War, we were neutral but pro-American."

The official also said the U.S. investigation into Nazi gold in Swiss banks in the mid-1990s was a low point in relations with Washington that is not yet forgotten.

"The pressure from the United States in that case came as a surprise to us, and we stood alone," he said.

He noted that several countries began lobbying Switzerland to support their candidates in U.N. bodies long before yesterday.

Mr. Deiss said his nation's priorities as a new U.N. member will focus on human rights and democracy, the start-up of the ICC and reforming U.N. sanctions regimes so they can better target outlaw governments without negative side effects.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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