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Swiss slap sanctions on Iran

Larijani says the Swiss have a role to play as mediators Reuters

Switzerland has imposed sanctions against Iran over the Middle East country's continued failure to halt uranium enrichment.

This content was published on February 14, 2007 - 19:26

The move comes two days after Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey held informal discussions with Iran's national security chief Ali Larijani on the nuclear stand-off.

On Wednesday the cabinet announced an embargo on all goods that could serve Iran's nuclear or ballistic missile programmes. The Swiss authorities have also frozen a number of Iranian assets.

The measures comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in December last year. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes but the United States and other countries accuse Tehran of secretly developing atomic weapons.

During Monday's talks in Bern, the Swiss foreign minister stressed the need for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis.

Earlier in the day the Iranian foreign ministry had spoken of a "Swiss proposition" but neither side chose to give further details. Larijani merely stated that the Swiss had an important role to play as a mediator.

Intermediary?

What the Swiss are actually doing remains unclear. The foreign ministry declined on Monday to reveal what proposals neutral Switzerland might make as an intermediary.

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran and is used as a go-between by the two sides. The US and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 after American embassy staff were taken hostage in Tehran.

Yves Besson, a former Swiss diplomat and lecturer on Middle East studies at Fribourg University, believes Bern's interest should not be overplayed.

"I think every western European government is concerned about the deadline at the end of February for Iran to show some understanding on the nuclear issue," he told swissinfo.

"[Calmy-Rey] is making use of the fact that we represent the American interest in Iran and the Iranian in Washington. Usually this kind of duty is purely an administrative one but it can be more," he added.

Obstacle

Middle East expert Arnold Hottinger said the biggest obstacle to intervention by the Swiss or any country would be the US.

"If the Swiss are willing to do something, the big question is whether the Americans are willing to accept it," he said.

"Right now the Iranians are being relatively active and it's logical for them to talk to the Swiss, because they are their access to the Americans."

"There is a lot of pressure to do something and the Swiss are trying to help," he added. "If the Americans attack Iran this will be a major disaster in world politics and the Swiss know it."

Former Swiss ambassador to Tehran Tim Guldimann warned that the prospect of military strikes against Iran could not be ruled out. But he called for moderate forces in Iran to be given more time.

"Short of a military strike – which I do not exclude – in the short to medium term, I just assume that the debate will go on. This is in itself is not too bad because the tendencies in Iran itself are far more moderate today that they were last autumn," he said. "It would be very wise to give these moderate forces more of a chance."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

The international community suspects Iran would like to build its own nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic programme. It is a wish the Iranians have expressed since the 1970s.

The United Nations Security Council has already adopted two resolutions calling for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, demands the Islamic Republic has refused to accept.

On Wednesday the Swiss complied with a UN resolution on Iran adopted in December and imposed sanctions. Tehran could face further measures if it does not suspend enrichment by February 21.

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