BERLIN – Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met with his Swiss counterpart in
Bern on Tuesday – the first visit of Israel’s top diplomat to Switzerland’s
capital since 2003 – and discussed a range of Mideast policy matters, including
economic cooperation with the Alpine country.
minister, Didier Burkhalter, spoke with Liberman at the Maison de Watteville in
Bern’s Old City.
“Burkhalter reiterated Switzerland’s belief that a just
and lasting peace can only be established through the creation of an independent
and viable Palestinian state living side by side with the State of Israel within
secure and recognized borders,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry said.
meeting, the two ministers addressed the latest developments in the Arab Spring,
as well as the regime’s crackdown in Syria and the Iranian nuclear
Before Liberman’s visit to Bern, the general-secretary of
Switzerland’s Jewish community, Jonathan Kreutner, criticized the Swiss position
on Iranian economic sanctions.
“We regret the attitude of Switzerland,
which once again stands in contrast to the policies of other Western states,”
Kreutner told The Jerusalem Post via email.
“Especially at a time in
which Western states are seeking to oppose the Iranian nuclear threat through
intensified economic sanctions, we find Switzerland’s actions
worrisome. We expect Switzerland to join the [European Union’s]
approach,” Kreutner said.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, and has
long maintained a policy of neutrality in foreign relations.
government announced last week that it would not implement the full EU sanctions
against Iran. The measures – intended to convince Iran to suspend its nuclear
enrichment program – include penalizing the Central Bank of Iran and halting oil
and gas trade with Tehran.
In response to Bern’s position, Iranian state
media outlet Fars News Agency headlined a story on Tuesday, “Tehran Welcomes
Switzerland’s Opposition to Anti-Iran Sanctions.”
According to Fars,
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said, “We believe this
decision [by Switzerland] affects our bilateral ties and we hope that other
states in Europe and the West abandon their wrong decisions and return to a
correct approach that will be effective for their national
Bern’s pro-Iranian trade policies prompted Israel to summon
the Swiss ambassador in 2008. Burkhalter’s predecessor, Micheline Calmy-Rey,
flew to Iran to sign a gas deal valued at 18 billion-22b. euros between the
Swiss EGL energy company and the National Iranian Gas Export Company.
an unusual move, the Israeli Embassy withheld criticism of Switzerland’s
pro-Iran position – raising speculation that the two countries were engaged in
delicate negotiations on the matter.
Israel’s embassy in Bern has not
shied away from commenting on previous controversies such as Swiss meetings with
Hamas representatives and Swiss-Iran energy and financial
Business ties between Israel and Switzerland were also on the
agenda in Bern.
According to the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Liberman and
Burkhalter addressed economic, scientific and cultural relations.
nations implemented a free-trade agreement in 1993. Israel is Switzerland’s
third-largest export market in the Middle East after the United Arab Emirates
and Saudi Arabia.
Trade between the two countries reached 1.4b. Swiss
francs (approximately NIS 5.6b.) in 2011, an increase of 6.6 percent from the
Israel and Switzerland conduct many cultural and
scientific exchanges, and the foreign ministers ministers agreed on the need to
strengthen scientific cooperation. Both countries have universities that
collaborate closely with European research efforts.
During the meeting, a
number of marchers demonstrated against Liberman’s visit to Bern.
estimated 100 protesters from the Swiss-Palestinian Society attended the march,
according to the Swiss Jewish weekly magazine Tachles. “You are not welcome in
our land,” Green party federal deputy Daniel Vischer said. Swiss media outlets
reported that the protesters targeted Liberman in particular because he lives in
a West Bank settlement, Tekoa.
According to the SDA wire service, the
Swiss-Israel society praised Burkhalter for meeting with Liberman. It is very
important to maintain normal bilateral relations with Israel, Vreni
Müller-Hemmi, the society’s president, said.