Switzerland confirms secret Iran talks
Switzerland has confirmed reports from Tehran that Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey met Iran's chief nuclear negotiator last week.
News of the meeting was broken by news agencies on Tuesday, which quoted Iranian official Ali Larijani as saying that, while the Swiss proposals were not acceptable, they could be amended to resolve its nuclear issues.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel told swissinfo that he could say nothing beyond confirming that the get together did take place.
“It was during a trip to Europe that Mr Larijani met… Micheline Calmy-Rey for a working dinner. At this meeting, the two parties mainly discussed issues of a bilateral nature, as well as the so-called Iranian nuclear issue and, in this context, possible diplomatic solutions were discussed,” Knuchel said.
Larijani was quoted in media reports as saying that negotiations had taken place as the Swiss were interested in becoming active on the issue.
According to the media and diplomatic sources, there is already a “Swiss plan” in existence, which calls for a simultaneous suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme and international sanctions. It has never been confirmed by the Swiss foreign ministry.
This latest meeting was the second time this year that Calmy-Rey has met Larijani. In February the two held informal discussions. Two days later the Swiss imposed sanctions on Iran, which were in line with a United Nations Security Council resolution passed last year.
Switzerland also represents the United States’ interests in Iran after Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1979.
However, it appears that Bern was not acting in this capacity during the meeting between Calmy-Rey and Larijani.
Bruno Pellaud, president of the Swiss Atomic Energy Association and former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told swissinfo that Switzerland seemed to have made ” a realistic assessment” of the current stand-off.
“It has said that Iran has the right to enrich uranium but it also has the obligation to abide by IAEA and Security Council decisions,” Pellaud underlined.
The nuclear expert called the status quo between the US and Iran a “log jam”.
“There are very stubborn positions on both sides. Namely Iran does not want to suspend uranium enrichment at all and doesn’t want to listen to the international community. The US insists on putting Iran in the corner where everything would be forbidden,” Pellaud said.
He added that this impasse made it very difficult for mediators to help.
“Those attitudes are too far apart from each other and those people in between, trying to help, be it the European Union or Switzerland, cannot really do much until the main partners, who are clearly Iran and the US, come to their senses,” Pellaud said.
For its part, Washington has been critical of Swiss involvement in brokering a deal.
The country’s former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, told a Swiss newspaper last month that Bern should not get involved with the Iranian nuclear issue.
Ray of hope
Pellaud was pessimistic about the stand-off coming to a quick end.
“[Change] will not be possible as long as there is a President Bush in Washington and a President Ahmadinejad in Tehran,” he said.
However, with presidential elections taking place in both countries – the US in 2008 and Iran in 2009 – there is a glimmer of hope that the stalemate could end with new leaders taking office, said Pellaud.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has so far refused to back down on Tehran’s decision to have its own nuclear programme, resulting in UN sanctions on his country.
swissinfo, Faryal Mirza
The international community suspects Iran would like to build its own nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic programme.
The United Nations Security Council has already adopted two resolutions calling for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, but Iran has refused to accept the demands.
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