Swiss minister welcomes ‘fruitful’ talks in Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (r) welcomes his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis (l), at the Iranian parliament office in Tehran, Iran, on September 7, 2020. Keystone / Abedin Taherkenarehh

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said he had “fruitful” talks on Monday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on “peace, economic development and human rights”.

This content was published on September 7, 2020 - 16:04

Cassis is taking part in a three-day visit to Iran to strengthen ties and to mark 100 years of Swiss diplomatic presence in the capital, Tehran. It also coincides with 40 years of representing US interests in the country. Switzerland has served as an intermediary between Washington and Tehran since 1980 after the collapse of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“Peace, economic development and human rights – fruitful discussion with my counterpart,” Cassis wrote on Twitter following the talks in Tehran on Monday.

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In its unique intermediary role Switzerland was involved in a swap deal in June that led to the release of US Navy veteran Michael White, who had been detained in Iran. Matteo Taerri, an Iranian-American doctor based in Florida, also returned to Iran.

Cassis is expected to hold further high-level meetings on Monday with President Hassan Rouhani and the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani.

Zarif described his meeting with Cassis as “excellent” on Twitter and said, “while appreciating Swiss efforts to mitigate US sabotage, a return to normal trade is global priority”.

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According to the US Department of State, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a phone call with Cassis before his Tehran visit

Swiss channel

Other issues on Cassis’ agenda included business, human rights, the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement, the nuclear deal and the situation in the Middle East.

“I’m glad we could establish together the Swiss Humanitarian Channel for the transfer of food and medical supplies to the people of Iran,” Cassis wrote on Twitter.

The Swiss channel is a payment mechanism to enable food, medicine and other humanitarian aid to be sent to Iran without breaking US sanctions. Humanitarian goods are theoretically exempt from sanctions, but international purchases of such supplies are almost impossible since banks are wary of falling foul of the US over doing business with Iran. The channel was established and conducted its first transaction earlier this year.

As well as its US-Iran intermediary role, Switzerland has also acted as a protecting power for Iran in Saudi Arabia and for Saudi Arabia in Iran since 2017. Since 2019 it has also represented Iran’s interests in Canada. 

On Sunday evening, Cassis opened an exhibition at the Negarestan Garden in Tehran on the history of Swiss-Iranian bilateral relations. The exhibition showcases 100 years of Swiss diplomatic presence in Iran.

He also met the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, on Sunday.

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