July 18, 2010
Switzerland-Iran Foreign Relations
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has claimed that "diplomatic work in Iran's nuclear issue is not lost because we can witness the fruits of diplomacy and nuclear negotiations. We have also tried for resolving Iran's nuclear issue with the other side; we have supported and will support multilateral mechanisms for solving the dispute.” The Swiss government has been cooperating with the U.S. to freeze banking accounts and other financial assets belonging to individuals involved in Iran’s nuclear program; Switzerland has also vowed to block the sale of dual-use items. Although some smaller private banks have continued to work with Iranian companies, Switzerland’s major banks have ended their financial interactions with the Islamic Republic since the UN and EU imposed further sanctions. During an April 2009 interview, Swiss Ambassador to Iran Livia Leu Agosti said, regarding the diplomatic situation surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, that Switzerland has “developed ideas on how to bring both sides to the negotiating table.”
In late November 2009, the IAEA passed a rebuke of Iran for building a second enrichment plan in secret, 25 votes to three. Switzerland supported the resolution. The resolution by the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors called on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and immediately freeze the construction of its Fordo nuclear facility, located near Qom. In response, Ahmadinejad said Britain and Israel sabotaged the talks in Geneva that led to the vote, adding that any sanctions would have minimal effect and world powers would not think about launching an attack on Iran.
In May 2010, Iranian head of the human rights council Mohammad Javad Larijani met with Swiss Ambassador Livia Leu Agosti where Larijani proposed an invitation to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. This invitation came after and in reponse to Pillay’s recent criticism of the government’s crackdown on the opposition after the June 12, 2009 disputed presidential elections.
Switzerland and Iran have greatly reduced their bilateral economic cooperation since the UN Security Council took up Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in 2005. Many Swiss banks have frozen Iranian assets that had connections to Iran’s nuclear program and the Swiss government has cooperated with the United States and European Union states in banning dual-use items and financial assets of individuals connected with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear enrichment.  Switzerland and Iran do maintain some bilateral trade connections, mostly in the energy sector, and in March 2008, Swiss company Elekrtrizitaetsgesellschaft Laufenberg (EGL) signed a $42 billion energy agreement with the National Iranian Gas Export Company.
In 2009, the United States Congress passed a legislation requiring the US administration to publish a report of companies doing business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its affiliates. The Swiss-based companies Glencore International AG and Trafigura Group were among the companies established as Iran’s biggest refined petroleum suppliers.
In December 2009, the Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, revealed it expected to pay the US authorities about $536m to settle issues relating to financial dealings with Iran since it did not promptly terminate its business with Iran after the Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Iran in 2005.
In January 2010, it was reported that Swiss commodities trader Glencore International AG, one of the biggest gasoline providers to Iran, halted gasoline shipments to Iran as of a couple months prior to the report.
In March 2010, it was reported that the largest oil trader in the world, Vitol, that it had stopped dealing with Iran, following a report that traders were pulling out of the country as sanctions and US pressure took their toll. Vitol is based out of Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Iran and Switzerland’s political interactions have been limited since 2005, when the UN and EU imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its nuclear enrichment activities. Switzerland maintains an embassy in Tehran, which has also housed the American interests office in Iran since the U.S. and Islamic Republic severed political connections in 1979. Switzerland has emphasized human rights in its interactions with the Islamic Republic. According to Switzerland’s Foreign Minister, “both sides are worried about the violation of human rights and pay attention to the issue clearly and straightly." In an April 2009 interview with Swiss Ambassador Livia Leu Agosti, Leu Agosti said that Switzerland is “ready to facilitate any further dialogue” between Iran and the United States and that “Switzerland could make contributions to the process, should all sides wish it.” The Swiss Embassy in Tehran represented the United States after Iran detained three Americans accused of crossing the Iran-Iraq border illegally in July 2009. On August 3, 2009, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Nadine Olivieri noted that the “embassy in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Foreign Ministry and is trying to get a confirmation of the situation."[19
In December 2009, Switzerland passed a referendum banning the construction of mosque minarets, explaining that minarets have no religious meaning according to the Qu’ran, and are instead more an expression of religious-political power claim. Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki called his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, saying enforcement of the ban on new minarets was against the prestige of a country which claims to be an advocate of democracy and human rights and this action would damage Switzerland’s image as a pioneer of respecting human rights among Muslims’ public opinion. Calmy Rey told Mottaki her government “would use all its means to support Muslims rights.”
In January 2010, Iran summoned the Swiss Ambassador representing US interests in Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti, to protest at what it called Washington’s support for a group it linked to an atomic scientist’s killing. Massoud Ali Mohammad, a physics professor at Tehran University, was killed in a bombing in the capital on January 12, 2010. The next day, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani accused intelligence agents of the United States and Israel of plotting the bombing.
In July 2010, Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri returned to Iran after he claimed to have been kidnapped by the US. Soon thereafter US officials reported that Amiri provided the U.S.’s Central Intelligence Agency about Iran’s nuclear program for the sum of $5 million. The Swiss charge d’affaires to Iran Georg Steiner was involved in conversations with Tehran as they protested the Amiri’s alleged “abduction.”