BERLIN - Swiss government officials in the Economics Department (Seco) have called for tougher sanctions against Iran and criticized Social Democratic Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey for blocking harder policies against the Islamic Republic, according to a report in Sunday's edition of the Swiss daily NZZ.
The disclosures, based on internal government documents, show deep cleavages between Bern's policy makers and what appears to be a sign of no confidence among some Swiss experts in Calmy-Rey's "neutral" approach toward Iran's nuclear program.
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According to NZZ, specialists in Seco believe Calmy-Rey is too "careful when dealing with the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." In late August, the foreign minister issued an internal report advocating the implementation of the mild UN sanctions against Iran, but also calling against the adoption of the robust EU sanctions targeting Iran's energy and financial sectors.
When asked about the criticism of Seco government officials and whether the Foreign Ministry plans to adhere to sanctions instituted by the US and the EU, Lars Knuchel, a spokesman for Calmy-Rey, said, "Sanctions are generally a last resort when the usual diplomatic efforts fail to bear fruit. For this reason, the EDA [Swiss Foreign Ministry] has frequently called on the Islamic Republic to transparently cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Association, for example at the last session of the IAEA governing council in March of this year," Knuchel told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in Bern told the Post on Monday that "Israel's stance on this issue is well known and we have made it clear to the Swiss government on many occasions." The Israeli Foreign Ministry publicly rebuked Calmy-Rey in 2008 for an 18 billion Euro gas deal between Swiss energy giant EGL and the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) at a time when the US and Britain called on European countries to not engage in energy sector business with Teheran.
The EGL contract was signed with NIGEC, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Gas Company that was placed on Britain's Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009. EGL's contract with Iran might trigger a US congressional investigation under the new round of enhanced US sanctions. Critics argue that revenues from the deal could be used to finance Iranian allies Hamas and Hizbullah, as well as nuclear proliferation activities.
According to the Swiss Foreign Ministry document, Calmy-Rey argued against adopting EU-style sanctions because of Switzerland's "mandate as a protective power" and its "neutrality and impartiality." Switzerland as a neutral power will "open doors for us in Teheran and Washington" and help Switzerland in its economic matters, wrote the top Swiss diplomat.
However, the officials in the Swiss Economics Department said Calmy-Rey "overestimated the role of the protective power" of the Swiss, and noted that it did not prevent American pressure.
The EGL gas contract is a "thorn in the side [of the Americans]" and many high-level US officials "have already on many occasions called for Switzerland to issue unilateral sanctions against Iran," they said.
Telephone calls to the American Embassy in Bern and a Post
e-mail asking if the US plans to retain the Swiss as its diplomatic
representative in Iran (because it does not maintain its own diplomatic
presence there) were not immediately returned.
Dr. Herbert Winter, head of the Swiss Federation of Jewish communities
(SIG), told the Post
on Monday that, "While certainly understanding the
independence of Swiss politics, the SIG considers it a lack of
solidarity and worrying if Switzerland does not at least join the EU
economic sanctions against Iran, if not the American sanctions, in order
to effectively oppose the Iranian nuclear threat."
"Only implementing the UN sanctions and taking measures that they
believe will prevent evasions through Switzerland is not enough," he
Officials from Seco wrote that they expected the EU to increase its
pressure on the Swiss to act against Iran.