DAVOS, Switzerland (Jan. 31)
The United States is seeking to improve relations with Switzerland now that the Alpine nation is confronting its wartime past, U.S. Vice President Al Gore declared at an annual economic conference held here over the weekend.
Gore, who headed a U.S. delegation to the Davos World Economic Forum, praised Switzerland for taking steps to end the three-year controversy regarding Swiss actions during World War II, including charges that Swiss banks withheld funds deposited during the war years from Holocaust survivors and their heirs.
After meeting with Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Gore announced that the two countries were creating a bilateral trade commission as part of a “new era” of cooperation.
The two countries will also increase cultural, scientific and educational exchanges and work together to combat organized crime and drug trafficking, according to another member of the U.S. delegation, Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat.
Eizenstat, who led a U.S. historical review of Swiss-Nazi dealings, issued a scathing report two years ago charging, among other things, that those dealings may have helped prolong World War II.
But at the Davos conference, the emphasis was on fostering a new era of friendlier relations.
Gore said he had been assured by the World Jewish Congress, which had spearheaded an international campaign to get Switzerland to acknowledge its wartime past, that it, too, was firmly behind efforts to improve bilateral relations.
Gore and Eizenstat met at the conference with a Swiss delegation, headed by Dreifuss, that included Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti, who served as Swiss president last year, when two leading Swiss banks agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement of Holocaust-era claims.
The Swiss delegation also included Thomas Borer, Switzerland’s point man on Holocaust-related issues.
The Swiss officials attempted to have a joint communique issued with their American counterparts state that the controversy over Switzerland’s wartime dealings is now over, according to sources within the U.S. delegation.
While willing to recognize the positive steps Switzerland has taken so far, the United States did not want to go further than that in the communique, the sources added.