Swiss FM Calmy-Rey: All Must Consider “Sitting Down with Osama Bin Laden”

In a speech delivered last week to the annual assembly of her diplomatic corps (see below), Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey, who for some reason takes pride in describing herself as a founder of the UN Human Rights Council, said that one of the questions that every country has to ask is, “[S]hould we seek dialogue without discrimination — even if it means sitting down with Osama Bin Laden?”

You’ll recall this is the same woman who signed the gas deal with Ahmadinejad, and posed with him smiling, as she donned the Islamic headscarf. She once proposed inviting the Iranian leader to Switzerland to debate the Holocaust. Really.

Instead of apologizing to the free world for what even the Swiss now recognize to be not only inane but dangerous remarks — political figures there are finally beginning to question her fitness for office — Calmy-Rey has been trying to shoot the messenger.

Unhappy with how Agence France-Press reported the story, journalists say that Calmy-Rey’s staff threw a fit, calling every reporter in the country to save her career from self-destruction. The Swiss issued a public rebuttal of AFP’s story, but that wasn’t enough.

Now, Geneva newspapers report, Calmy-Rey’s office has filed a formal complaint with the Paris headquarters of AFP, a letter that may have even suggested that the Geneva bureau chief be fired. Calmy-Rey further alienated political allies and the normally sympathetic press corps when she boycotted the 80th anniversary celebration of the Swiss foreign press association, reneging on her promised appearance.

Boycott? Funny, and we thought she was against that stuff.

Below is the relevant section of FM Calmy-Rey’s speech.

Speech by Mrs. Micheline Calmy-Rey to Swiss Foreign Ministry’s
Annual Conference of Ambassadors 2008

Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

When we read international news in the Swiss newspapers, one feels as though being plunged into the darkest pages of religious history back in the 16th and 17th centuries. Inclusion, the pursuit of influence and persuasion are often depicted as the devil’s making when related to Switzerland’s foreign policy. Ostracism and punitive violence become the panacea again. It makes us wonder whether the Enlightenment ever took place…

Today, we give moralists more than their due: following their advice, Israel would have never engaged in a dialogue with the Palestinians, the king of Nepal with the Maoists, the Columbian government with the FARC; no communication channel would have been opened between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE and the UN Secretary General would not be speaking to the Sudanese president. The international community would content itself with showering sanctions and bombs at North Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Zimbabwe, Hamas, Hezbollah, the radical Shiites of Iraq, the LRA, North Uganda and still others. And of course, it would have boycotted the Olympic Games.

So should we listen to these bien-pensants [right-thinking people]? Or should we seek dialogue without discrimination –even if it means sitting down with Osama Bin Laden? What is there to do when people, groups or States violate international law and its principles? Whom should we call a terrorist, and whom a freedom fighter? What are the legitimate means of political activities, and what should we ban?

None of these questions can be ignored and Switzerland — like every other country — has to ask them.

World opinion of both States and non-governmental actors is divided when it comes to answering requests for either dialogue or boycott.  The consensus has grown larger in the past 15 years on what is suitable to consider as a threat to security or serious human rights violation, in fact or in law. But we usually have difficulty agreeing on whether to talk or to sanction, to reach out or to boycott, to communicate or to exclude. It is important to come out of a Manichean, black-or-white view of the world, where States and people can only be either friends or enemies. But how then can we get our bearings in this grey-shaded world?

There are situations in which one has to think twice before initiating a dialogue. I am fully aware of the need to show as much caution as possible when it comes to deciding who will speak to whom, when, and about what issue. Indeed, in order to advocate dialogue, one has to have a very precise idea of what is expected, and when it is time to put an end to a sterile dialogue.�


Translated by Myriam Alvarez-Pereyre. For full text in original French, click here.


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