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Swiss pressure Iran on human rights

Joseph Deiss (left) told the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, that Iran needs to improve its human rights record Keystone

Switzerland's foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has called on Iran to ratify international conventions against torture.

Deiss, on a two-day visit to Tehran, has held talks on human rights, the death penalty and stoning with his Iranian counterpart.

Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazai, said on Sunday his country was happy to discuss its stance on human rights with Western nations, but added they should not expect any changes.

Kharrazai said such talks could promote a better understanding of cultural and religious differences, but that Iran was bound by Islamic law.

“On hangings, for example, we said it was our Islamic law and we cannot change it,” said the Iranian foreign minister.

Hangings and stoning

Deiss said Switzerland had raised objections to hangings and stoning, still regularly carried out in Iran, during the talks. “We hope that Iran will ratify international conventions against torture,” added the Swiss foreign minister.

Still, Deiss said he was satisfied with the progress Tehran had made on human rights. He added that discussions on the issue were not a precondition for developing ties between the two countries and that Switzerland “respected Iran’s sovereignty and independence.”

Last year, 139 people were executed in Iran according to Amnesty International. Two convicted murderers were hung in Tehran on Sunday.

Talks also centred on the Iraqi standoff.

Both ministers reiterated their countries’ opposition to unilateral military action against Iran’s neighbour.

“Armed force must only be used after all possible solutions have been explored, and only within the framework of the United Nations,” said Deiss.

Kharrazai also rebuffed reports that Iran was prepared to support the Iraqi opposition if the United States attacked Baghdad.

Message channel

Switzerland has looked after American interests in Iran since 1980, often serving as a go-between for the two countries. Deiss refused to say whether he had relayed any messages on Washington’s behalf though.

“We don’t talk about the messages we convey,” said Deiss. “It’s up to the two sides to say it.”

Political analysts said it was likely that Deiss had transmitted a message to Tehran.

“A visit by a top Swiss official wouldn’t be complete without discussing America’s demands, especially now that America needs Iran’s help to topple Saddam Hussein,” said analyst Saeed Leylaz.

Deiss also met the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, and confirmed an invitation to make an official visit next year. He also signed a double taxation avoidance agreement with the economics minister, Tahmasb Mazaheri.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR