Skiplink Navigation

Main Features

Need a diplomatic messenger? Switzerland is eager to help

Swiss diplomacy has a long-standing tradition of trying to talk to all sides “to build trust”.  The country’s “protecting power” mandates have nearly doubled from four to seven in the last few years. So why is there a new surge of interest in this Swiss good office?  

 “They come to us and want us to be the mediator between two countries that are no longer talking to each other,” outgoing State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Pascale Baeriswyl recently told She thinks it is a sign of troubled times “because there are a lot of hotspots in the world where countries are starting to downgrade their bilateral relations”.   

The Alpine country currently has seven protecting power mandates, according to the official count. The number of Switzerland’s mandates is second only to Sweden’s nine, although all the Swedish ones are limited to North Korea.  

With these “powers”, it effectively represents the interests of states that have broken off diplomatic relations with each other.  A protecting power mandate usually means taking on some of a state’s consular tasks, such as issuing visas. The mandated country can also facilitate negotiations.

Swiss diplomacy What are Switzerland’s good offices good for?

As tensions and oil prices rise in the Middle East, the Swiss foreign ministry is offering its good offices. But what are they?

During Baeriswyl’s tenure, Switzerland began representing the diplomatic interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran and vice versa. It also represents Iran in Canada, while Canada’s interests in Iran are represented by Italy.   

Bern has also signed an agreement to represent the United States in Venezuela, but this last mandate is still waiting for validation by the government of Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, so is not included in the official list.   

In addition to these recently added mandates, Switzerland  represents Iran in Egypt since 1979, the US in Iran since 1980, Russia in Georgia since 2008, and Georgia in Russia since 2009.

Top diplomats talk Swiss humanitarian channel to Iran seen within months

A humanitarian channel to bring food and medicine to Iran could be up and running within months, senior Swiss and U.S. officials told Reuters.

This content was published on December 11, 2019 6:18 PM

These Swiss good offices started back in the 19th century. The role steadily grew. During World War II, Bern was juggling 219 mandates, representing 35 governments, including the major warring powers.  Both Switzerland and Sweden emerged as favourite protecting powers at that time, owing to their neutrality.  

Going back several decades, Swiss diplomats also played a crucial role in defusing the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and the US hostage crisis in Iran in 1979-81.  

More recently, Switzerland facilitated a prisonerexternal link swap between the US and Iran in December 2019, a rare détente in otherwise worsening relations.

In April 2019, it helped to secure the release of a US citizen from a prison in Venezuela.   

What’s in it for Switzerland?  

Asked whether Switzerland gets paid for providing these good offices, the foreign ministry says it is only paid expenses. So why does it stick to offering the complex task?  

“First, we want to be helpful,” retired former Swiss ambassador to Iran Philippe Welti told in 2013. “This might sound naive, but it’s certainly true.”  

But there is more to it than that, he continued. “It’s also a good opportunity to remain in the minds of other governments as something of a useful unit – because normally when others are at war with each other, third parties become marginalised. And in the case of the Second World War, the marginalisation was very dramatic because it turned into a hostile attitude against Switzerland.   

It certainly seems to win the small Alpine country some clout with the world’s superpowers of the day.  Just last year, Switzerland suddenly featured large on the US diplomatic radar, allowing for a meeting between President Donald Trump and Swiss President Ueli Maurer in May 2019. 

Given the ongoing tensions in Iran, that outsized role appears likely to continue.

Neuer Inhalt

Horizontal Line

The citizens' meeting

How the Swiss are moving back to the mountains

How the Swiss are moving back to the mountains

subscription form

Form for signing up for free newsletter.

Sign up for our free newsletters and get the top stories delivered to your inbox.

Click here to see more newsletters