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Swiss forge closer ties with Iran

Joseph Deiss (left) met the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, says he has held frank and open discussions with Iran on human rights during a visit to Teheran.

In an interview with swissinfo, he said the two countries were gradually forging closer ties, which was paving the way for dialogue over difficult issues.

Deiss told swissinfo he had pressed his Iranian hosts to ratify international conventions against torture. He said he received no conclusive answer but the fact that Iran was willing to hold such a discussion was a sign of progress itself.

"I think Iran is quite open to dialogue today and prepared to have these discussions [provided] they are conducted with mutual respect for each other's sovereignty.

"On our side, we have to take into account the situation of this country... its will to be a religious state and the influence of its own civilisation. It's not possible from one day to the other to find answers on subjects like the death penalty and so on.

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

Executions

"On hangings, for example, we said it was our Islamic law and we cannot change it," he said.

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

Deiss remains optimistic, though, that progress could be achieved. "We have been told that Iran is working on [the issue of ratifying the conventions] and that discussions are continuing. I think there is a positive position of the Iranian authorities in respect of issues of that kind."

Deiss found common ground on the issue of Iraq where, he said, Teheran's position is almost identical to that of Switzerland.

"On the Iraq question, Teheran [says] Iraq should comply with the UN resolutions and allow inspections and if necessary to eliminate all weapons [of mass destruction].

"Our positions on the use of force were also similar... that it should only be used once all other measures have been exhausted."

Bilateral ties

The purpose of Deiss's visit was to strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries, and to that end an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation was signed.

Deiss says it's the latest step in an ongoing process, which is drawing the two countries closer together.

"Iran hopes to develop economic relations with Switzerland, and we hope to find new opportunities for direct investment. We are trying to put into place the framework necessary for such relations.

We already have an agreement on investment promotion and protection, and we signed an agreement [on Sunday] on the avoidance of double taxation."

Deiss referred to one deal involving the Swiss firm, Nestlé, "which will start operating in the next days or weeks, and a direct investment worth tens of millions of dollars."

US interests

Switzerland has been looking after American interests in Iran since 1980, and political analysts said it was likely that Deiss would have conveyed a message from Washington.

Deiss refused to be drawn on the issue, though, saying only that he had held discussions about "the services provided by our ambassador to Teheran as a representative of the interests of the United States".

Any message was likely to be concerned with Iraq, said analyst, Saeed Leylaz. "A visit by a top Swiss official won't be complete without discussing America's demands, especially now that America needs Iran's help to topple Saddam Hussein."

swissinfo, Billi Bierling


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