The President of the Swiss Confederation visited Central Asia. Political discussions focused primarily on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and bilateral themes.
Travel to Central Asia
Wednesday, 19.11.2014 Saturday, 22.11.2014
Official visit; OSCE
Location: Central Asia
The President of the Swiss Confederation and Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Didier Burkhalter, travelled to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as part of a four-day trip to Central Asia. Mr Burkhalter was scheduled to meet with presidents, foreign ministers, OSCE representatives and civil society representatives.
The agenda for discussions also included the priorities of Switzerland's chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014. Other topics discussed included the situation in Ukraine, European and Euro-Asian security, and the next OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting, which is scheduled to take place in December in Basel.
The five Central Asian states are situated between Russia, China and Europe, and three of them also border Afghanistan. From the perspective of the OSCE this is a region that faces numerous security and cooperation challenges. No other regional or global organisation has taken up these challenges as much as the OSCE. Its commitment spans the politico-military, the economic and environmental, and the human dimensions.
22 November 2014 – Kyrgyzstan
Didier Burkhalter, Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), ended his tour of Central Asia on Saturday with a visit to Kyrgyzstan, where he met with the country's president, Almazbek Atambaev, prime minister, Djoomart Otorbaev, and foreign minister, Erlan Abdyldaev. The discussions between the two presidents centred on relations with the OSCE, Swiss-funded development aid projects, cooperation within the Bretton Woods institutions and a review of international issues. The Ukrainian crisis was also a particular topic of focus.
Continuation of the Community Security Initiative
The talks between Mr Burkhalter and the representatives of the Kyrgyz authorities emphasised the good relations between Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, which has long been called the "Switzerland of Central Asia". These positive diplomatic relations are particularly apparent in the country’s close cooperation within the Bretton Woods institutions, where Kyrgyzstan is a member of Switzerland's voting constituency. Mr Burkhalter also praised the cooperation between the Kyrgyz authorities and the OSCE. The announcement that the Community Security Initiative, which the Kyrgyz authorities had hoped to end immediately, would continue to the end of 2015 is a mark of this good understanding.
20 years of engagement by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
Furthermore, Mr Burkhalter's visit to Kyrgyzstan provided the opportunity to look back over 20 years of Swiss development cooperation in the country. Before returning to Bern, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office also met with representatives from civil society, with whom he discussed the situation in the country.
22 November 2014 – Tajikistan
Didier Burkhalter, Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, met with the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, on Saturday in Dushanbe. The discussions between the two centred on relations with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Swiss-funded development aid projects, cooperation within the Bretton Woods institutions and a review of international issues. The Ukrainian crisis and the situation at the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan were particular topics of focus.
Visit to the OSCE Office
Didier Burkhalter praised the cooperation of the country’s authorities with the OSCE and with Swiss development aid partners. Following his meeting with President Rahmon, he paid a visit to the OSCE Office. The mission in Tajikistan is one of the longest-standing in the OSCE, which has been present in the country since 1993. During the visit, Didier Burkhalter also met with representatives from civil society.
A priority country for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
The discussion also outlined the support provided by Switzerland, which has made Tajikistan a priority country for its development cooperation policy. Switzerland funds projects in the areas of torture prevention, health care, access to water, defence of the rule of law and private-sector development.
21 November 2014 – Uzbekistan
The Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Didier Burkhalter, met in Tashkent with the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdulaziz Kamilov. Their talks focused on relations with the OSCE, cooperation within the Bretton Woods institutions, international issues, and development projects supported by Switzerland in Uzbekistan.
Mr Burkhalter spoke with his interlocutors about the three dimensions of the OSCE: the politico-military dimension, the economic and environmental dimension, and the human dimension. Concerning the last point, Mr Burkhalter noted that the OSCE must be understood as an instrument available to participating States to help them make progress in areas that are of benefit to themselves. Mr Burkhalter cited the example of a project on media freedom currently being carried out in Uzbekistan.
Another topic of discussion was regional coordination in the area of water supply and efforts to ensure that the population has access to this natural resource. Some 38% of the rural population do not have access to drinking water. The government has set itself the objective of improving this situation so that by 2020, 85% of the rural population and 100% of urban residents will have access to drinking water. Through its development aid programmes in Uzbekistan, Switzerland is helping accomplish this goal.
Mr Burkhalter left Tashkent in the late afternoon and arrived in the evening in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe, the fourth stage of his visit to Central Asia.
20–21 November – Kazakhstan
"Central Asia plays an important role as a bridge between Asia and Europe," observed Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), on Thursday in Astana at the end of a meeting with the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Cooperation with the OSCE, an exchange of views on international politics and an in-depth discussion of the causes and possible solutions to the Ukrainian crisis were highlights of the talks between Mr Burkhalter and Mr Nazarbayev.
The two presidents also welcomed the good cooperation between Switzerland and Kazakhstan within the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). They also expressed their satisfaction with the rapid growth in economic relations between the two countries in recent years (in 2013, trade rose to CHF 1.36 billion, a 57% increase year-on-year). Some forty British companies have operations in Kazakhstan.
Memorandum of understanding
The two countries are also set to intensify their contacts at the political and diplomatic levels. Mr Burkhalter and Mr Erlan Idrissov, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, signed a memorandum of understanding that establishes a new framework for diplomatic relations between the two countries. Mr Idrissov also extended an invitation to Mr Burkhalter for Switzerland to take part in Expo 2017 in Astana. Mr Burkhalter thanked Mr Idrissov for the invitation and indicated that Switzerland would give it would actively consider taking part.
Invitation to the Basel summit
Mr Burkhalter in turn spoke with his interlocutors about the three dimensions of the OSCE – the politico-military dimension, the economic and environmental dimension, and the human dimension – and invited Mr Idrissov to the next OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting, which will be held in Basel and will address the issue of terrorism in general and the phenomenon of young people who are joining terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria in particular.
20 November 2014 – Turkmenistan
Relations between Turkmenistan and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were at the centre of discussions on Thursday in Ashgabat between the President of the Swiss Confederation and Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, Didier Burkhalter, and Mr Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, the President of Turkmenistan. During his stay in the Turkmen capital, Mr Burkhalter also had a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rashid Meredov, with whom he discussed the ties between Switzerland and Turkmenistan, notably within the Bretton Woods institutions.
Mr Burkhalter considers this visit to Central Asia as an opportunity for both the OSCE and Switzerland to speak to the representatives of the region’s countries about the importance of their role as a link between Asia and Europe. He also encouraged the Turkmen authorities, who have dedicated 2015 as a year of neutrality and peace, to consider humanitarian action in this framework.
Also discussed was collaboration between the Turkmen authorities and the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat, which has submitted to the government a number of projects to be developed jointly. The priorities which the OSCE has set itself for this country include the training of border guards, airport security, good governance, renewable energy sources, prison reforms and questions relating to media freedom and the proper conduct of elections. The two presidents also discussed the Ukraine crisis and ways in which the people of Turkmenistan could do more to support the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission.
Invitation to the Basel summit
Mr Burkhalter, who also evoked the three dimensions of the OSCE – the politico-military, the economic and environmental, and the human – with his interlocutors, invited Mr Meredov to participate in the next OSCE ministerial summit, due to take place in Basel at the beginning of December, at which discussions will notably touch on efforts to combat terrorism in general and the phenomenon of youth travelling to Iraq or Syria to join terrorist organisations as combatants.
The question of water management between the countries of the region was another topic raised during the meetings. Switzerland is prepared to make proposals for the equitable distribution of this important natural resource. Moving on to the second stage of his visit to Central Asia, Mr Burkhalter flew to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.