Buy American? Biden pushes US fighter jets in talks with Swiss

US President Joe Biden sang the praises Tuesday of two US-made fighter jets in the running for a major contract to replace Switzerland's fleet, his Swiss counterpart said.

Buy American? Biden pushes US fighter jets in talks with Swiss

“Mr. Biden recalled the excellent quality of the two US planes” — the F35 made by Lockheed Martin and the F/A 18 made by Boeing, Swiss President Guy Parmelin told reporters after meeting with the US leader in Geneva. Biden is due to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the city on Wednesday.

The two US fighters are competing against the Rafale, made by French company Dassault, and the Eurofighter by Airbus, to replace its ageing fleet of F-5 Tigers and F/A-18 Hornets — both US-made.

“I reminded him that we have a process under way, which was decided on long ago, and that the government will reach its decision based on the process currently under way,” Parmelin said.

According to Swiss media, a decision is expected on June 23 on who gets the contract, worth 6.0 billion Swiss francs ($6.7 billion, 5.5 billion euros).

Switzerland’s long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

How does Switzerland feel about US fighter jets?

In 2020, Switzerland held a referendum on purchasing fighter jets. 

Swiss voters narrowly approved the proposal to spend CHF6 billion on new fighter jets.

The vote was far closer than expected, with under 9,000 votes nationwide deciding the question. 

This should put an end to a more than decade-long debate about replacing Switzerland’s ageing fleet of jets, although another vote could be held once the government determines which planes it is looking to buy.

READ MORE: Why is Switzerland holding a referendum on purchasing fighter jets?

However, voters said they were reluctant to buy from the US – at least under former President Donald Trump. 

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

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Swiss president under fire for handshake photo with Russia’s Lavrov

While attending the opening week of the 77th UN General Assembly in New York this week, Switzerland’s president Ignazio Cassis was photographed shaking hands with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Swiss president under fire for handshake photo with Russia's Lavrov

Though Cassis announced beforehand that he would address “President Putin’s recent provocations” and that he would “condemn the nuclear threat”, Russia used the photo for its own propaganda purposes, with Lavrov publishing the picture of the two smiling diplomats in his tweet.

Cassis quickly reacted with his own post, explaining that his meeting with Lavrov was for a good cause.

“I called on Russia to refrain from organizing so-called referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Switzerland is also very concerned about the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. Neutrality and good offices remain our instruments of dialogue”.

However, some in Switzerland and elsewhere have not accepted this response.

While the Foreign Ministry said “it sees no problem” with this photo, Swiss media Blick noted that “no head of state or minister of a Western democracy has allowed himself to be represented with Sergei Lavrov in such a posture”.

“This image would reflect an apparent normality in relations between the two countries, while Switzerland is still one of the countries hostile to Russia”.

It added, however, that Cassis might have had a noble motive in shaking Lavrov’s hand.

“In the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s announcement to mobilise the reserve troops of the Russian army against Ukraine, this somewhat tense grip is more due to the contingencies of diplomacy than to a reconciliation”.

Others were less understanding of Cassis’ action.

“Our President is shaking hands with a war criminal… I can’t believe it”, said Bernhard Guhl, former national adviser to the Center party.

For Thierry Burkart, president of the Liberal party, “it’s unfortunate that this photo exists. But sometimes you just can’t avoid it…”

As for other social media users, one commented that Cassis “looks proud standing next to a genocide instigator… ashamed of my government”.