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EghtesadOnline: Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said Bern continues to stand by Tehran to help it address the economic challenges arising from the United States’ tough sanctions.

He made the statement in a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Monday—the third day of his visit to mark 100 years of the European country’s diplomatic presence in Iran.

“The Swiss Financial Channel has been designed and launched for this purpose and we will make efforts so that this channel can play an effective role,” Cassis was quoted as saying by 

Cassis was referring to the financial channel known as Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement that allows Swiss-based companies to send medicines and other essential goods to Iran without being obstructed by American sanctions.

The United States reimposed tough sanctions on Tehran two years ago after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal. Although Washington claims that humanitarian goods are exempted from the bans, banking and trade restrictions have practically made the import of such goods impossible. 

“With the spread of the coronavirus disease, we expected European countries to take more practical measures against the US economic terrorism that has impeded even the import of medicine to Iran,” Rouhani said, calling for the further activation and more useful operation of SHTA. 

Both officials underlined the two countries’ longstanding relations, calling for expanding the close and friendly ties in all sectors. 


Mutual Respect 

Cassis held two rounds of talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier in the morning, the second of which was attended by delegations from both countries, ISNA reported. 

“Pleased to host Swiss FM @ignaziocassis on centennial of diplomatic relations—ties that endure based on mutual respect,” Zarif said on Twitter, adding they had “excellent talks on bilateral, regional & global issues”.

Cooperation in the health sector and the coronavirus response, Switzerland’s role as representative of Iran’s interests in some countries and the Swiss financial channel to help Iran avoid American sanctions were also among the topics of discussion, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh. 

“The Swiss foreign minister’s trip is within the framework of the roadmap prepared during mutual visits by the presidents of the two countries,” he said in his regular press briefing.  

Cassis said in a tweet that he discussed peace, economic development and human rights with his counterpart, describing the talks as “fruitful”. 

“I’m glad we could establish together the Swiss Humanitarian Channel for the transfer of food and medical supplies to the people of Iran,” he added. 


Global Priority 

The first shipment of medical supplies arrived in Tehran through SHTA in July after a trial transaction earlier in January. 

 “While appreciating Swiss efforts to mitigate US sabotage, a return to normal trade is a global priority,” Zarif also said in his tweet. 

Khatibzadeh said the two transactions were conducted using Iranian assets in Switzerland, but those resources are not sufficient. 

He noted that Iran hopes the mechanism can steer clear of political pressure so that Iranian assets in other countries could be used for the trade of humanitarian goods.

“But the US tries not to allow these resources enter the channel,” he added. 

Cassis had a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ahead of his official visit to Tehran, raising speculations that his trip to Iran is aimed at mediating between the two arch-foes. 

Khatibzadeh dismissed the rumors, saying the Swiss diplomat’s trip did not involve Tehran-Washington ties. 

“Our policy toward the US has not changed,” he said. 

Tensions between Tehran and Washington escalated since the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and its maximum pressure campaign against Iran. The US administration hopes to force Iranian leaders to renegotiate a new deal while Iran has refused to enter any talks as long as sanctions are in place. 

Switzerland has represented US interests in Iran since 1980. In 2017, it assumed protecting power mandates for Iran in Saudi Arabia and for Saudi Arabia in Iran. It has also represented Iranian interests in Canada since 2019.


Tehran sanctions Switzerland Economic Ignazio Cassis