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Swiss defense minister outlines future of Korea cooperation

Armaments is one possible point of cooperation between Switzerland and South Korea if the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission becomes obsolete in the event of reunification of North and South, Swiss Defense Minister Ueli Maurer told a gathering at the Swiss Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday.

Switzerland, along with Sweden, is one of two nations making up the NNSC, tasked with keeping the peace at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
Swiss Defense Minister Ueli Maurer (John Power/The Korea Herald)
Swiss Defense Minister Ueli Maurer (John Power/The Korea Herald)

On his first visit to Korea, Maurer reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the NNSC and to ties if it is disbanded, and thanked Korea for its strong 58-year relationship with Switzerland in keeping the peace.

“Switzerland is a small neutral country and as such is a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, by now for 58 years. And that is how Switzerland wants to be present at the global stage, as a neutral small country ... About one 1,000 Swiss officers have been deployed to the NNSC over the years ... that also leads us to do our best to do what we can to help solve your (Korea’s) problems,” Maurer told the gathering of military and diplomatic officials.

Earlier in the day, Maurer held talks with Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and Unification Minister Hyun In-taek.

Asked by The Korea Herald about the content of the discussions, Maurer said: “About security policy, the NNSC, our mission, economics, sports, peace, all these things. The army, the feudal system we have.

“We know in the Switzerland the situation here. Our officers are here. It was good to hear it for once direct. Normally we hear it from Swiss officials,” he added.

Maurer, a former head of the Swiss People’s Party, acknowledged that no one could say when unification of North and South Korea would come, but was positive about strategies coming out of the South.

“I think you have good ideas here. I think everybody hopes there will be change, but nobody can say when ― tomorrow or in 20 years.”

Earlier in the day, Maurer also visited the DMZ.

“You can feel the tension in the air. You don’t see it, but somehow it’s there,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Although much of his speech focused on the NNSC and security matters, Maurer pointed out that the two countries’ relationship went much further.

“The countries have a second point in common ― that they were poor, that they have a very diligent people, that they have modesty,” he told the gathering.

“The Republic of Korea is present every day in Switzerland as in many other countries, whether you look at TV, whether you work on a flat screen at the office, or when you ride a car.”

He also congratulated Korea on its successful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics and opened the door to collaboration between the countries for a future Swiss bid.

“It is with joy that we have noticed that you have given the task to organize the Winter Olympic Games 2018 in PyeongChang. Switzerland may possibly be a candidate for the Winter Olympic Games four years later in ’22 and we might even in that sense make a joint venture, that we might profit from your experiences as you may do from ours,” he said.

Maurer returned to Switzerland on Wednesday having arrived here two days previously.

By John Power (john.power@heraldcorp.com)
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