Swiss gov't official slams ADL ads

Calls ads "non-factual;" ADL campaign claims Swiss-Iranian energy deal "legitimizes" Ahmadinejad.

calmy-rey 224 88 (photo credit: Swiss Government [file])
calmy-rey 224 88
(photo credit: Swiss Government [file])
A Swiss government official on Wednesday blasted the Anti-Defamation League for "not corresponding to the facts" in an ad campaign claiming that a 25-year, multi-billion-dollar Swiss-Iranian energy deal would contribute to international terrorism. The deal, signed by the state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) and the private Swiss company EGL in March, will see some 5.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year flowing from Iran to Europe by 2012. Depending on market factors, the deal's value could reach more than $30 billion. The deal was signed in Teheran on March 17 in the presence of Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who stated that it did not violate either UN sanctions - which Switzerland has joined - or even US law, which sanctions companies that invest large sums in Iran's energy sector. The US embassy in Bern criticized the deal in March, saying it sent "the wrong message at a time in which Iran continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions that demand a suspension of activities with respect to nuclear enrichment and processing." At the time, Calmy-Rey explained that the purpose of the deal was to "decrease our dependence, and the dependence of Europe, on Russian gas." A representative of Swiss signatory EGL told The Jerusalem Post at the time that the company was not investing inside Iran, but had only signed a contract to purchase gas and deliver it out of the country. Yet, "as the Swiss government pursues its own narrow economic interests, it is bankrolling the world's leading sponsor of terrorism," accused one of the ADL ads, published on Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal Europe, while another published in The International Herald Tribune bluntly called Switzerland "the world's newest financier of terrorism." \Similar ads were published in Swiss papers Le Temps, Le Matin Bleu, and Neue Zurcher Zeitung, as well as in The New York Times and The New York Sun. According to the ADL, the deal means that "the [Swiss] government is funding an Iranian regime that viciously abuses the human rights of million of its own citizens, especially women and minorities." But in a conversation with the Post on Wednesday, a Swiss government official rejected the criticism outright. "On what grounds does an NGO criticize a sovereign country like Switzerland for following its own long-term strategic rationale, which is in line with international considerations?" demanded Lars Kunchel, spokesperson for the Swiss Foreign Ministry in Bern. "It is beyond the pale to accuse us of financing terrorism," he declared, adding that the accusations "are simply not true." Noting that "the Swiss state is not party to the deal," which was signed with the private company EGL, Kunchel said the deal "fully conforms to all existing UN sanctions against Iran and is even in full conformity with the Iran Sanctions Act, which is a piece of American legislation that has extraterritorial ambitions. Most countries outside the US would not respect another national law as their own law, but even if you accept US legislation as internationally valid for all countries, the contract in question is 100 percent in line with this legislation." Saying that his criticism of the ADL was his own opinion and not the formal response of the Swiss government, Kunchel listed 10 other countries that purchase energy from Iran, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, South Africa, China, India and fellow European states France, Italy and Greece. These countries, he said, have not been the targets of ADL campaigns. At the same time, "to my knowledge, the Swiss government was not even approached by the ADL, other than with these ads," he said. Reached by phone, ADL director Abe Foxman said the Swiss state still had responsibility for the deal, noting that "this private deal was signed and delivered by the foreign minister, who flew to Teheran to conclude it. Why was that gesture necessary?" According to Foxman, "Switzerland is hiding behind legalities" on the question of sanctions. "This is a moral question. Switzerland pretends and desires to be the conscience of society. It is the repository of so many international treaties because of its high standard. What kind of standard is this setting at this time?" Switzerland was a target for ADL scrutiny, he added, because "this deal is being done now, after the ascendancy of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, after we know Iran is aiding and abetting Hizbullah and Hamas, while the deals of other countries have been in process for several years." Foxman also took issue with the complaint that ADL had not approached the Swiss government before launching the media campaign. "Why do we need to discuss with them something they've already done, and done so publicly?" Another American Jewish official who asked not to be named said the problem was not with the business side of the deal, but with the Swiss government's "legitimization" of the Iranian regime. "Even if they're right," he said of Kunchel's remarks, "the Swiss have only themselves to blame. If [Calmy-Rey] conducts a highly publicized visit to a Holocaust-denying regime, is photographed in a head scarf smiling with Ahmadinejad, and permits material support to the economy of a regime that seeks to eliminate Israel, how do they think the Jews are going to react? The world is rightly going to be looking at this relationship under a magnifying glass and trying to understand its meaning." According to the official, "it's not just the Jews who are upset. The American government is angry over this, too. What did the Swiss expect?" The deal, ostensibly intended to secure Switzerland's energy supplies, may yet prove harmful to the country's energy security, according to Prof. Uzi Arad, a former Mossad director of intelligence who holds a PhD from Princeton in energy security and has worked closely with Swiss authorities in the past. "Simply by strengthening this Iranian regime, the deal may be making Iranian gas the least secure on Earth," he told the Post on Wednesday. "The appeasing nature of [Calmy-Rey's] visit unquestionably strengthened Iranian defiance. In supporting an aggressive, hostile regime, it only brings us closer to the kind of crisis that [National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin] Ben-Eliezer, [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy or [US presidential hopeful John] McCain have warned about," explained Arad, referring to a possible military showdown with the West, or between Iran and Israel. Such a confrontation would likely lead to the cancellation of the deal and the loss of the gas supply. "This deal isn't only in bad taste, when many countries are willingly giving up on lucrative deals to help in the international effort to isolate Iran; it's also not clever on their part," Arad said. "Rather than increasing Swiss energy security, it only harms Switzerland's reputation."