They say that paranoia is the secret to survival. Without being paranoiac (I hope), I am trying to understand why Swiss president Ueli Maurer had a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in the White House, the ultra-secret Bilderberg Group Meeting including Henry Kissinger and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met in Montreux, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Bern, Fribourg, Gruyeres, Montreux and Bellinzone, all in 18 days.
Why is Switzerland of all sudden on the U.S. radar screen? Why all this Swiss-United States activity now?
Let’s try several scenarios:
1) The new United States ambassador in Bern, Ed McMullen, a big supporter of President Trump and a former political strategist of Trump during the 2016 campaign, is owed some favors for his efforts. Nothing like having the U.S. Secretary of State casually visiting the Swiss Parliament in Bern with the Ambassador close behind to confirm that McMullen has the ear of the prince and is a voice to be reckoned with concerning U.S./ Swiss relations. McMullen has taken center stage within the diplomatic community in Bern and has become the voice of America in Switzerland.
2) U.S. 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 rattle the sword towards regime change in Teheran. The United States invokes harsh sanctions on Iran and stopped sanction waivers for countries importing Iranian oil. The Revolutionary Guard has been declared a terrorist organization by the U.S.
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 free five American captives in Iran. What better way to show interest in diplomacy than to engage the Swiss, the traditional intermediary between the United States and the Islamic Republic since the hostage crisis of 1979. Bolton is the bad guy; he was in the Oval Office with Trump and Maurer. Pompeo is the good guy, with the Swiss willing to play the good guy role. Remember how Pompeo said the U.S. would talk to the Iranians with no pre-conditions. A scoop in Switzerland! And, didn’t Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis talk about humanitarian relief to the people suffering in Iran during his press conference with Pompeo? Peace and love in the Alps.
3) The United States and Switzerland have been negotiating a free trade agreement for some time. Pompeo repeated its importance, emphasizing that Switzerland is the 7th largest investor in the United States. Although the trade deal seems not for tomorrow, there is no question that these talks touched on the subject.
4) 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 interest of the Norwegian government to participate as an intermediary. But there is no question that Switzerland has proposed to represent the United States. Another possible reason for the American activity.
5) Finally, on a much lighter note, the Pompeos had the weekend off. In between trips to Germany and the Netherlands and London, the Secretary of State and his wife had some free time. What better way to vacation than to stroll around the Swiss capital – casually with no tie - and then to take in the sights in Fribourg and Gruyeres, and maybe even do some shopping. Pompeo has been very busy with China, Russia and all, and after visiting Germany, he deserved some R&R (Rest and Relaxation in military lingo). Discussions in the Netherlands and London were anticipated to be tense, to say the least, so why not a quick trip to Switzerland, some nostalgia in the Tessin about Pompeo’s family, a drop-by at Bilderberg, and off we go. Why not?
Maybe all of the above are true. But whatever the reason, there is no question that U.S./Swiss political activity is back on the radar screen, certainly here in Switzerland.