Swiss reject US call for expulsion of Iraqi diplomats

Iraqi diplomats will not be asked to leave their embassy in Bern Keystone

The Swiss government has rejected a United States request for the immediate expulsion of Swiss-based Iraqi diplomats.

This content was published on March 26, 2003 - 11:56

The cabinet on Wednesday said the conditions for expulsion - as governed by international conventions - had not been met.

A statement from the cabinet said Switzerland would only close the Iraqi permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva if required to do so by a UN resolution.

Furthermore, the Iraqi embassy in Bern would only close if diplomatic relations with Switzerland came to an end.

Political analyst, Julian Hottinger, said the government remained to be convinced about the need for the expulsions:

"The justification given by the Americans was not enough."

"In the past - during the Cold War - we have expelled diplomats... but each time the Federal Council has clearly had to justify the expulsion," Hottinger told swissinfo.

The decision not to expel the Iraqi diplomats follows similar requests by the Bush administration to 60 countries around the world.

"Threat" to US

The US state department earlier this month said the presence of Iraqi envoys represented a threat to US personnel abroad. The US called for the expulsion of several hundred Iraqi diplomats the Central Intelligence Agency alleged were spies.

Several countries, including Italy, Britain, the Philippines and Australia have expelled dozens of diplomats accused of carrying out duties beyond those normally associated with diplomatic postings.

However, others, such as Japan, France and Pakistan have refused the request.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Bern said he had no comment to offer on the decision.

"Military" campaign

However, Samir Al-Nima, Iraq's UN ambassador in Geneva, told swissinfo the Swiss government had acted in accordance with international law.

"This is a legal position and we would hope many other countries follow suit," said Al-Nima.

Al-Nima accused the US of attempting to deny the Iraqi government its international legitimacy.

"Basically, it's part of their military campaign," he said.

"The US has tried to eliminate Iraq from representing and defending its case, so the aggressions launched against Iraq will go on without the Iraqi people having a voice," he added.

Al-Nima said US allegations that Iraq's envoys were working as spies were without foundation. "They could accuse anyone of being an intelligence agent, but that doesn't mean anything."

"The state that accredited that diplomat should know if that [person] is a diplomat or an intelligence agent."

Iraqi money

Following a US request, Switzerland has frozen Iraqi government accounts worth around SFr500 million ($362 million).

A cabinet spokesman said no decision had been made on the frozen accounts.

The foreign ministry added that there was no evidence that private funds belonging to the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, or members of his entourage, were being held in Swiss accounts.

Persona non grata

The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations governs expulsions.

While diplomats enjoy immunity from the criminal and civil laws of host countries - most frequently to avoid parking fines - they can be expelled if suspected of spying.

Article 38 of the convention states that diplomatic agents shall enjoy immunity only "in respect of official acts performed in the exercise of his functions".

Article 41 says, "persons enjoying such privileges... have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of [the receiving] state".

A host country can declare a diplomat "persona non grata" if they are found to be in breach of the convention.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

In brief

Switzerland rejects US call for expulsion of Iraqi diplomats.

The US has asked 60 countries to expel hundreds of Iraqi diplomats accused by the CIA of spying.

The US says the diplomats represent a threat to US personnel abroad.

The Swiss cabinet said on Wednesday the conditions for expulsion had not been met.

The cabinet said Switzerland could only close Iraq's permanent mission to the UN in Geneva, if requred to do so by a UN resolution.

Furthermore, Iraq's embassy in Bern would only be closed if diplomatic relations with Switzerland came to an end.

The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations outlines conditions for expulsion of diplomats.

The Iraqi permanent representative to the UN in Geneva welcomed the decision.

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