A new, low-key style at the Foreign Ministry

No press conference or beeper message as Livni meets with Swiss FM.

June 13, 2006 00:56
3 minute read.


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Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey came to Israel Sunday for a lightening visit that was largely hidden by the Foreign Ministry. Contrary to the usual practice in which the Foreign Ministry gives journalists prior notice of visiting world leaders, Calmy-Rey arrived without as much as a beeper announcement going out to reporters. Needless to say, there was no Israeli statement or joint-announcement after the meeting. Diplomatic officials said that the Foreign Ministry was not trying to hide anything, and that the Swiss flag flew at the building on Sunday, but rather that this just reflected Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's "modest, more discreet" style. "Livni believes that not everything we do needs to be made public," one official said. The official pointed out that since becoming foreign minister, the number of announcements sent out by the Foreign Ministry has declined, as has the number of press conferences held with visiting leaders. While Livni's predecessor, Silvan Shalom, would make a point of holding a press conference with nearly every visiting foreign minister, Livni's press conferences have been very infrequent. The meeting with the Swiss foreign minister came a day before Livni went to Luxembourg for the EU-Israel Association meeting taking place on the sidelines of the monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers. Among the colleagues Livni met with briefly on Monday were the foreign ministers of Germany, Denmark, Greece, Holland, Britain, Poland and Luxembourg. On Tuesday, Livni will take part in two meetings with the EU foreign ministers. The first will deal with political issues, such as the current situation in Gaza and the "funding mechanism" the EU is creating to channel money into the Palestinian Authority in a way that will bypass the Hamas government. The second meeting will deal with EU-Israeli relations, including the action plan on Israel's membership into the European Neighborhood Plan, a program that would give Israel a preferential relationship with the EU just short of full membership. Livni is slated to meet Tuesday with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner in charge of External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, and with the foreign ministers of Austria and Finland. Austria currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and Finland will take up this position next month. While the Foreign Ministry did not put out a statement following Sunday's meeting with Calmy-Rey, the Swiss Foreign Ministry did oblige. According to its statement, the focus of the discussions in Israel was on preparation for the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, which will convene on June 20, 2006 in Geneva to "consider and adopt" an amendment adding an "additional distinctive emblem" to the organization that would pave the way for Magen David Adom's membership into the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC). The ICRC announced in December that it would change its rules to allow national first aid societies to use the new symbol - that of a "crystal" - in the place of a cross or a crescent, if they objected to the existing symbols. Magen David Adom has been pressing full membership into the ICRC for some 50 years. The Swiss Foreign Ministry said that Calmy-Rey considered it her responsibility to meet with the key players before the ICRC meeting, and in addition to meeting Livni, also met Noam Yifrach, the president of Magen David Adom, and Younis al-Khatib, president of the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The ICRC conference will also take up "creating a framework for the recognition and admission of the Palestine Red Crescent Society." The statement also said that Calmy-Rey discussed with Livni her concerns about "the civilian casualties of Friday's artillery attack on a beach in Gaza and expressed her doubts whether the use of artillery in the context of the crowded Gaza Strip was compatible with the international humanitarian law." The issue of "the freedom of movement and residency rights of elected representatives of the Palestinian Authority was also raised," the statement said.

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