Swiss State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Pascale Baeriswyl is to fly to Saudi Arabia this Sunday for political consultations, just after the foreign ministry banned aircraft firm Pilatus from operating there.
Baeriswyl will be accompanied by specialists on financial, economic and human rights issues, according to the foreign affairs ministry. Spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger said these political exchanges have been taking place every year since 2012 and are an occasion to discuss bilateral as well as regional and global issues.
This time the talks will nevertheless be taking place in a particular context. On June 26, the foreign ministry banned aircraft manufacturer Pilatus from providing services to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It deemed that the services in question, which include technical support, replacement parts management and fixing problems with the Pilatus PC-21 aircraft, constituted “logistical support to the armed forces” contrary to the Federal Act on Private Security Services provided Abroadexternal link.
This law, which came into force in 2015, bans Swiss-based companies from activities that contribute directly to hostilities abroad. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have for several years been involved in the civil war in Yemen, where Saudi-led airstrikes are accused of having left tens of thousands of civilians dead.
Saudi Arabia has also come in for heavy international criticism over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Switzerland has called for a fair judicial process, but has been less critical than some other countries. According to Swiss ambassador to the UN Valentin Zellweger, Switzerland finds itself “in a special position because of its mandate as a protective powerexternal link for Saudi Arabia and Iran”.
Switzerland represents Saudi Arabia’s interests in Iran and Iran’s interests in Saudi Arabia.