Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis to visit Iraq, Oman and Lebanon

Press release, 01.04.2021

Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) will visit Iraq, Oman and Lebanon from 3 to 8 April 2021. The main purpose of the trip is to hold talks on the priorities of the MENA Strategy 2021–24, with a particular focus on promoting dialogue, reducing regional tensions, sustainable development and humanitarian activities. 

The upcoming visit falls within the framework of the implementation plan for the Federal Council's Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Strategy. It will be Mr Cassis' fourth trip to the region after his visits to Iran, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria in 2020 and 2021. The MENA Strategy aims to ensure coherence in Switzerland's activities in the region and better coordinate its diplomatic, economic, humanitarian, and peace and development foreign policy instruments.

Support for dialogue and regional stability

Mr Cassis will first visit Iraq, which has been especially hard hit by regional tensions and terrorism in recent years. It will also be the first time a federal councillor has visited Iraq since 1979. Mr Cassis is scheduled to discuss Switzerland's commitment to dialogue and regional stability with the authorities in Baghdad, including Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein. He is also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding establishing bilateral political consultations, a testimony to the two countries' commitment to strengthening relations.

In Oman, which like Switzerland is well known for its neutrality and mediation efforts, Mr Cassis will meet with Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al Busaidi. Switzerland is keen to develop a closer relationship with Oman in order to advance dialogue and conflict resolution in the region.

Humanitarian aid in Lebanon

Switzerland has been supporting the Lebanese people since the explosion in Beirut on 4 August 2020. The country is facing a grave economic and political crisis. During his stay, Mr Cassis will pay a visit to a hospital that was destroyed in the explosion and rehabilitated by Switzerland, as well as visiting other Swiss humanitarian projects in the country. He will also travel to an informal settlement for Syrian refugees. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the crisis in Syria. Lebanon is host to 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Young people and innovation

The MENA region has a young population full of potential, but a number of countries are affected by high unemployment. In its MENA Strategy, the Federal Council has prioritised activities that support young people through the development of vocational education and training and facilitating access to the job market. In this connection, Mr Cassis is planning to meet young entrepreneurs in Iraq's nascent start-up sector in order to discuss innovation and what prospects there are for young people in this still fragile country. Mr Cassis will also address the subject of vocational education and training with Oman's foreign minister and young professionals in the country. One area of particular interest is what opportunities there are for Swiss companies to operate in Oman in view of the country's efforts to diversify its oil-based economy.

Mr Cassis will be accompanied on his trip by members of the Council of States Damian Müller (president of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of States) and Andrea Gmür-Schönenberger (member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of States).

Link: MENA Strategy (PDF, 4.9 MB, English)