Swiss defend meeting with Ahmadinejad

Politicians say Israeli anger is "uncalled for;" but official admits there has been widespread criticism.

ahmadinejad Merz Durban 2 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad Merz Durban 2 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Reacting to Israel's sharp rebuke of Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz for his decision to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday, Geri Müller, Green Party politician and chair of the foreign policy committee in the Swiss Parliament, said on Tuesday that Israel's "anger is not justified." Dick Marty of the Liberals Party stated on Monday that Israel's reaction is "absolutely uncalled for." When asked about a report in the Swiss daily Basler citing an Iranian press article (IRNA) that Merz had "condemned the aggression of the Zionists in Gaza" in his meeting with Ahmadinejad, and stressed that the Swiss need the support of Iran because of its energy demands, a spokesman from the Swiss Finance Department said, "that is propaganda." The spokesman, who wished not to be named because the Swiss Foreign Ministry is handling the foreign policy reaction to the controversial meeting, told The Jerusalem Post that the Finance Department "received criticism from all over" with respect to Merz's talks with Ahmadinejad. Merz is Swiss finance minister as well as president. Responding to a Post query concerning the Iranian press report, Georg Farago, a Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman, wrote in an e-mail, "The meeting between President Merz and President Ahmadinejad took place on the sidelines of a multilateral UN conference at the request of the Iranian president. "At the meeting, President Merz clearly criticized the human rights situation in Iran. And he sharply and unmistakably condemned the Iranian president's discourse regarding the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist." Farago said that energy issues were on the agenda at the meeting. He was not aware if any private sector business meetings took place with the Iranian delegation, which included Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari. Yves Kugelmann, the editor-in-chief of the prominent Swiss Jewish weekly Tachles, told the Post that, "Switzerland represents US interests in Iran; therefore, protocol required the meeting on Sunday, and it could have been used to additionally represent the interests of the entire enlightened world. "But President Hans-Rudolf Merz missed his chance. Instead of confronting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the eyes of the world, with clear demands in the name of international humanitarian law, the meeting led to nothing more than a meaningless communiqué, and smoothed the Iranian president's platform for the expected anti-Israeli tirade of hate at the UN. With this kind of neutral diplomacy and these kinds of conferences, the fight against racism becomes a perverse farce." Jonathan Kreutner, general secretary of the 18,000-member Swiss Jewish community, told the Post that "We are criticizing the Swiss delegation for not standing up and leaving," the conference room as Ahmadinejad delivered his anti-Israel and anti-Semitic diatribe at the opening session of the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva. European Union diplomats got up and left as Ahmadinejad bashed Israel and denied the Holocaust. Müller, the Swiss MP,argued that "one should listen to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then criticize." Müller is viewed as a hard-core supporter of Palestinian interests, and was a featured speaker at an extremist anti-Israel demonstration in January to protest Operation Cast Lead. After it was reported that protesters at the rally had waved banners equating the Star of David with a swastika, Müller reluctantly distanced himself from depictions of the Jewish state as a Nazi regime.