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Swiss express concern over situation in Iran

Reuters

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has called on Iran to show restraint in the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

This content was published on June 24, 2009 - 10:33

She reiterated that freedom of expression must be maintained and urged Tehran to investigate complaints about alleged irregularities in the June 12 presidential elections.

Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had notified the Iranian authorities of its position through diplomatic channels, but given the situation the foreign ministry had to tread carefully.

"We don't want to endanger the opposition. Also we must keep open dialogue with Iran since we represent Washington's interests in Tehran," Calmy-Rey said.

She added that the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti, was in contact with the Iranian foreign ministry and kept the Swiss government informed about developments in Iran.

Last week Iran summoned the Swiss ambassador to protest against what Tehran considers an intervention by the United States in an internal affair.

Switzerland has been looking after the interests of the United States in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The situation in Iran is dangerous, and because of the importance of Iran it has an impact on the rest of the world," Calmy-Rey said on Tuesday.

Protests

She pointed out that apart from public protests in the streets there was also uncertainty about what was going on within the government.

Demonstrators have been taking to the streets of Tehran and other cities almost daily after the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad claimed victory in elections over a moderate challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The government dismissed allegations of vote rigging. At least 17 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in the protests lasting over the ten days.

The hardline Revolutionary Guards have vowed to crush resistance by opponents.

Calmy-Rey said the Swiss embassy in Tehran had received no requests to shelter injured protesters. Switzerland, like Italy, had offered refuge.

Human rights

She added that a dialogue with Iran over human rights, launched in 2003, was continuing but was being reviewed. However, she added this was a standard procedure.

Calmy-Rey reiterated that her presence at a signing ceremony for a gas deal between a private Swiss energy firm and the Iranian government last year did not contradict this policy.

Israel and the US criticised the Swiss foreign minister at the time, saying she was setting a bad example.

Pictures of Calmy-Rey wearing a headscarf during a meeting with Ahmadinejad in Tehran also caused a public outcry in Switzerland.

However, she said the visit had allowed her to raise human rights issues with the Iranian authorities.

Calmy-Rey who is due to meet her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday in Bern, is also due to discuss the situation in Iran.

"I think he understands perfectly the role of Switzerland in Tehran," she said.

Switzerland has acted as diplomatic go-between between Russia and Georgia since last October.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch

In brief

Demonstrators have been gathering almost daily in Tehran and other cities since the government of incumbent President Ahmadinejad announced it won the June 12 presidential elections.

The defeated challenger Mousavi said the vote was rigged, a charge denied by the authorities.

Iran's Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi called on the EU to impose diplomatic sanctions on the authorities in Tehran to press for an end to the crackdown on demonstrations.

Iran has accused the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of interfering in its state affairs.

Ban had urged the authorities to stop the use of force against civilians in Iran and urged them to respect civil rights.

Britain on Tuesday announced it would expel two Iranian diplomats in response to the expulsion of two British diplomats by Iran.

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Swiss-Iranian relations

Switzerland has represented Washington's interests in Iran since 1980. It also looks after Iranian interests in Egypt.

There were 184 Swiss expatriates, mostly dual nationals, based in Iran in 2008.

Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz met his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva in April.

Micheline Calmy-Rey made a controversial visit to Teheran in 2008 to attend the signing of a gas deal between a Swiss energy company and the Iranian government.

Iran is one of Switzerland's most important trading partners in the Middle East.

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