Israel: Swiss selling principles for Iranian gas

Foreign Ministry tells Swiss envoy it views multi-billion dollar deal as "unfriendly" act toward Israel.

swiss Iran deal 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
swiss Iran deal 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Stunned by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey's presence in Teheran Monday to witness the signing of a multi-billion dollar gas deal with the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, senior diplomatic officials said Wednesday Switzerland has sold its principles for $28 billion. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador, Walter Haffner, to the Foreign Ministry to protest the 25-year deal between the Swiss energy giant EGL and the state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Co. to buy 5.5 billion cubic meters of Iranian natural gas per year, starting in 2011, for between $28b. and $42b. Haffner went to the Foreign Ministry from Beit Hanassi, where he had just submitted his credentials to President Shimon Peres. Rafi Barak, the ministry's deputy director-general in charge of its Western European department, told Haffner that Israel viewed Calmy-Rey's trip to Teheran for the agreement as an "unfriendly" act toward Israel. Barak told the new envoy that in light of UN Security Council Resolution 1803 that clamped a third round of sanctions on Iran for continuing to enrich uranium, and at a time when the international community was working to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, Israel did not believe this was the time to promote business ties with Teheran. Iran, Barak said during the meeting, continues with its nuclear program, assists extremist organizations, supports terrorism, tramples human rights, denies the right to exist of a fellow UN nation, and exhibits hatred toward Israel and anti-Semitism. "Switzerland and the entire international community are aware of the dangers from Iran," Barak said. "Israel expects Switzerland to enlist in the international efforts on this matter." Haffner, according to Israeli officials, defended the move by saying that it did not break the sanctions regime, since the sanctions do not prohibit gas deals. Israel's reply, however, was that if the deal does not violate the letter of the sanctions resolution, it most certainly breaks the spirit of the sanctions measures. Switzerland has also come under harsh criticism from the US for the move. No reaction was available Wednesday evening from the Swiss Embassy in Tel Aviv. In Bern, however, Calmy-Rey on Tuesday brushed aside US criticism and the criticism from the local Jewish community, saying that the Alpine republic did not need permission from the United States to advance its strategic interests. "Switzerland is an independent country that has its own strategic interests to defend," she told reporters. Calmy-Rey defended her trip to Iran, saying it was a success for diplomacy and business. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said that Switzerland was the first country to allow such a deal, and that while in April the Austrian energy company OMV signed letters of intent with Iran valued at some $30b. to supply Europe with gas, that contract has yet to be finalized. The sources said that Calmy-Rey's visit to witness the deal made matters even worse by giving it governmental legitimacy. "This sends the totally wrong message," the official said. "How does a country that places human rights so high on its banner close its eye and embrace Ahmadinejad?" The officials speculated that domestic political concerns were part of the reason behind the move, and a Swiss political desire to both show and assert its independence. "They always have to do something different," he said. The sources said that no further diplomatic steps against the Swiss were being discussed. AP contributed to this report.