Following a first meeting in Geneva in January, Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), received Mr Guterres at the Federal Palace on Monday afternoon. This is the first official visit to Bern by Mr Guterres since his inauguration as the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations on 1 January 2017.
The discussion commenced on the topic of several ongoing conflicts, including Syria. Mr Burkhalter reaffirmed Switzerland’s support for the mediation efforts by Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, to reach a political solution. He also stressed the need to mitigate the humanitarian impact of the Syrian conflict and reiterated Switzerland’s pledge to disburse CHF 66 million for this purpose in 2017.
In the course of the meeting, Mr Burkhalter welcomed Mr Guterres’ decision to place conflict prevention – one of Switzerland’s main concerns – at the heart of the UN’s priorities. Referring to the key role played by mediation, Mr Burkhalter mentioned the new ‘Mediation in Peace Processes’ programme to be launched by ETH Zurich in November 2017 with the FDFA’s support.
Mr Burkhalter and Mr Guterres also discussed the food crisis currently affecting several African countries. Mr Burkhalter underscored his government’s rapid response to the UN’s call for aid for the populations concerned, with Switzerland releasing an additional CHF 15 million in February for South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. Together with Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, Mr Burkhalter and Mr Guterres will co-chair Tuesday’s high-level pledging event for Yemen in Geneva, aimed at scaling up the humanitarian response and mobilising urgent resources in support of the Yemeni people.
There was also an exchange of views on International Geneva. Mr Burkhalter referred to Geneva’s role as the UN’s second headquarters, after New York, and the hub of global governance. Both officials welcomed the member states’ decision to approve the project to renovate the Palais des Nations (‘Strategic Heritage Plan’), a flagship project for International Geneva which is scheduled to begin in the coming months.
They also discussed the topic of ‘Water, peace and security’ and, in particular, the use of water as an instrument of cooperation. Mr Burkhalter expressed his support for the various UN reforms proposed by the new Secretary-General.
Global governance is again on the agenda for discussion by Mr Guterres and the President of the Swiss Confederation, Doris Leuthard, when they meet later in the day for a working dinner. Another topic of conversation will be climate change and the challenges this brings to the international community. While in Bern, the Secretary-General is also due to meet the presidents of the foreign affairs committee of the National Council, Roland Rino Büchel, and the Council of States, Christian Levrat. On Wednesday evening, Federal Councillor Alain Berset, in his role as vice-president of the Federal Council, will meet the Secretary-General in Montreux as he welcomes the heads of all UN organisations to their semi-annual meeting, the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination. This is being held in Switzerland for the first time since 2012.
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