Six Swiss People’s Party politicians are making headlines after their controversial visit to Iran over Easter. The group of rightwing politicians included two who helped lead the campaign to ban minarets in Switzerland.
After the Swiss media learned of the trip, questions were raised as to what members of the People’s Party were doing there. The politicians met members of the Iranian political and business communities – such as Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi.
Afterwards, the Tehran Times quoted Aargau representative Luzi Stamm as saying that imposing sanctions against Iran was a “wrong policy”. Questioned about his remarks back home, Stamm has confirmed what he said in Tehran.
He also says he wasn’t surprised by the mixed reactions to the trip, which some have said was inappropriate because it could have been misinterpreted as an official Swiss visit.
“I know it doesn’t fit into the average picture,” Stamm told swissinfo.ch. Two of his travel companions – former Zurich representative Ulrich Schlüer and St Gallen Representative Lukas Reimann – were members of the committee that launched the initiative calling for a ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland. It passed in a nationwide vote in 2009.
Stamm said that their hosts must have been aware of how the ban came to be. “But we didn’t talk about religion or minarets at all,” said Stamm.
In a letter sent to the media, Stamm said that he and his colleagues had travelled on their own time and paid for the trip out of their own pockets. The trip was organised by Schlüer, who has also arranged visits to Russia and North Korea.
Stamm noted that they had gone on the trip with a list of questions themselves. For example, he wondered what had become of the natural gas deal mentioned by former Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey after her visit some five years ago.
“They said they didn’t know – that it was Switzerland’s mistake,” Stamm said.
He also questioned the fairness of the sanctions against Iran. “Are the US and the EU pressuring Switzerland to apply sanctions that they themselves find workarounds for?” He pointed out that Coca-Cola, an American product, is readily available in Iran.
“But as a Swiss businessman told me, ‘I can’t even sell a screw in Iran, because if I do, my US branch will face difficulties’,” said Stamm, highlighting the discrepancy.
Although it wasn’t possible to get all of his questions answered, Stamm said the answers they did receive were “very interesting”.
What surprised him were attitudes about the US.
“I was surprised by how friendly the Iranian youth are, and the positive attitude about the US. They admire the American culture, but they hate the political side – which I totally did not know,” said Stamm, who himself spent a year in Anaheim, California, as an exchange student.
Switzerland and Iran
The Swiss have represented US interests in Iran since diplomatic ties between the Americans and Iranians were severed shortly after the storming of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.
A prominent example of Swiss diplomacy came on behalf of three Americans who were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. They had been hiking in northern Iraq’s scenic Kurdish region and were charged with spying.
The woman was released on bail. The two men were sentenced to eight years in prison, but Switzerland was able to negotiate a deal to get them bailed out after two years.
More recently, Switzerland hosted the discussions for the Iran nuclear deal. In November 2013, Iran and the six world powers gathered in Geneva, where they brokered a deal for Tehran to stop enriching uranium in return for the easing of international sanctions.