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Protests against Swiss failure to uphold Iran sanctions
By JONNY PAUL AND BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
12/10/2010
The Stop the Bomb coalition holds demonstrations; Israel slams energy giant EGL for ignoring sanctions.
 
The Stop the Bomb coalition held demonstrations in front of several Swiss embassies in Europe on Monday, to protest Bern’s support for the Iranian government and (EGL) Elektrizitätsgesellschaft Laufenburg’s €18 billion-€20b. gas deal with Teheran.

The Stop the Bomb activists, including exiled Iranians, protested in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The Israeli Embassy in Bern blasted EGL for aiding Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry.

“The reality is that the Swiss government is failing to understand its responsibility, as a leading Western country, to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons,” Stop the Bomb’s UK spokesman, Sam Westrop, told The Jerusalem Post.

“The EGL deal is indicative of a government that cares little about the Iranian regime’s efforts to destabilize an entire region and does not realize that the regime poses a grave threat to the entire Western World.

“This is nothing new, though,” he continued. “Switzerland has supported Iran’s accession to the World Trade Organization, sought by Iran for 14 years. This led the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung to call Switzerland ‘Iran’s most steadfast ally in the Western world.’” The protests, coupled with US and Israeli criticism of Switzerland’s refusal to pull the plug on the EGL gas contract, highlighted growing anger with Switzerland’s policies toward the Islamic Republic.

Shlomit Sufa, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in Bern, told the Post that “this deal supports Iran’s economy at a time when all efforts should be made, together, in preventing Iran from advancing its nuclear program and achieving nuclear capacity. This deal stands in stark contrast to the spirit of the increasingly stringent sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council and by others like the USA and the EU.”

Standing in front of the Swiss Embassy in the heart of Berlin’s government district along with about 30 other demonstrators, Michael Spaney, a spokesman for the German branch of Stop the Bomb, called on the Swiss government to “revoke the multi-billion dollar EGL business deal with the Iranian regime and adopt the EU and US sanctions against Iran.”

In response to the protests, Adrian Sollberger, a spokesman for the Swiss Foreign Ministry, wrote in an e-mail to the Post that “Switzerland implements the UN sanctions resolutions forcefully, comprehensively and efficiently.”

Responding to criticisms that Switzerland is undercutting Western security by failing to adhere to US and EU sanctions, Sollberger wrote that Switzerland has “committed itself so that unilateral sanctions of important economic partners cannot be circumvented via Switzerland.”

However, he noted that “In addition to the US and the EU, only approximately a half dozen states have agreed to the extensive sanctions against Iran. The majority of the states of the international community abide – like Switzerland—by the UN sanctions.”

He termed the EGL deal a “private contract” and not a “state contract of the Swiss and Iran.”

Sollberger added, “Iran’s entry to the World Trade Organization is not currently ongoing and Switzerland is not providing any support.”

Yet critics say the Swiss government is part and parcel of the EGL-Iran gas contract and is shirking its responsibility to international security.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who facilitated the massive gas deal, appeared in 2008 at the EGL signing ceremony in Teheran with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. EGL is a subsidiary of the AXPO-Group, an energy utility company that is wholly owned by the cantons of northeastern Switzerland.

Asked about Switzerland’s business activity with a government in Iran that denies the Holocaust, Sollberger said, “Any denial of the Holocaust is unacceptable” and that Switzerland has criticized Iran’s denial of the Holocaust publicly and bilaterally.

Andreas Benl, a Stop the Bomb activist from Hamburg, said the Swiss Foreign Ministry had played down the Holocaust to curry favor with Iranian diplomats. He spoke at the Berlin demonstration, saying that in 2006 “the Swiss Foreign Ministry had recommended to Iranian diplomats a seminar on ‘different perspectives’ of the Holocaust.”

Richard Rogers, a spokesman for EGL, wrote by e-mail to the Post on Monday that “EGL does not operate a commercial transaction with Iran and does not maintain a branch office in Iran. In addition, the actual geopolitical situation does not permit the acquisition of Iranian gas.”

When asked if EGL plans to terminate its gas contract with Iran, Rogers refused to answer.

The EGL spokesman also declined to comment on why EGL maintains a multi-billion euro gas contract with a country that denies the Shoah.


Dr. Herbert Winter, head of the Swiss Federation of Jewish communities (SIG), told the Post that the “SIG has repeatedly been disappointed by Switzerland’s attitude towards Iran and has communicated this unmistakably to the Swiss Foreign Ministry.

“We cannot understand why Switzerland, a passionate defender of human rights, is reticent regarding a country like Iran, in which human rights are constantly mocked and whose president would like to erase a country, Israel, from the map. Especially at a time when Western states are endeavoring to oppose Iran’s nuclear threat with strengthened economic sanctions, we find Switzerland’s attitude worrisome. We can understand why this attitude causes displeasure abroad.”
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