Swiss president says accusatory remarks hinder probe

JERUSALEM — Switzerland is committed to investigating the "tragic mistakes" committed during World War II, Swiss President Flavio Cotti said Sunday, as he began a two-day official visit to Israel.

But he emphasized that such a step requires "that there will be a suitable atmosphere to allow such an examination to take place."

Cotti promised his country would continue to investigate what happened to the bank accounts of Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

But he said resolving the outstanding issues involves recognizing steps already taken by Switzerland in recent months and avoiding accusatory statements against the Swiss.

The return of Jewish assets was raised during a meeting at the Knesset with Speaker Dan Tichon and Likud Knesset member Avraham Hirschson, who heads the Knesset subcommittee on restitution.

Cotti also visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial.

The Swiss president arrived in Israel from Jordan and was met at the Allenby Bridge by Education Minister Yitzhak Levy.

They agreed on an exchange program that would involve educators, writers, researchers and thinkers specializing in the history of World War II, who would teach about the Holocaust and review archival material from this period.

Cotti also met Sunday night with National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon.

In an address Sunday night to the Israel Foreign Relations Council, Cotti made no attempt to downplay Switzerland's negative activities during World War II. However, he did note that during that period Switzerland absorbed 300,000 refugees, of whom 30,000 were Jewish.

He also listed what Switzerland is doing in terms of examining its history and making payments to Holocaust victims and their heirs.

He added that many Swiss citizens and officials had become increasingly frustrated at the lack of recognition for the measures Switzerland has taken and believe "that no matter what Switzerland does, it will never be enough."