As the Obama administration and U.S. allies seek to punish Iran for making no concessions in the latest round of negotiations over its nuclear activities, Switzerland has snubbed them by refusing to take part in the European Union’s sanctions efforts.
On Monday, the EU agreed to move forward with a eurozone-wide ban on Iranian oil imports this coming weekend, and even rejected Greece’s application for an exemption. The Greek government sought a waiver because it is heavily dependent on Iranian crude oil.
Marie Avet, a spokeswoman for the Swiss economics ministry, refuses to say whether Switzerland will adopt a ban on Iranian oil, and noted that it vehemently opposes any action to shut down Iran’s financial system.
“The Iranian central bank was the exception to the EU rules because of its meaning for the Iranian economy, and was not placed under sanctions,” she stressed.
The Central Bank of Iran also finances Tehran’s terrorist activities, domestic repression, and nuclear efforts.
“We expressed our disappointment,” U.S. ambassador Donald S. Beyer told the Swiss government in early June, after it suggested it wouldn’t follow the EU on sanctions. “We would like them to do it.”
The Swiss have long been seen as the weakest link in Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program.
In 2010, the U.S. sanctioned the Swiss-based Naftiran Intertrade Co. a subsidiary of Tehran’s National Iranian Oil Company, for sending “hundreds of millions of dollars” into Iranian energy projects. The Obama administration’s decision to sanction Naftiran Intertrade Co. was a largely symbolic move because the U.S. does not deal with the company.
Leave it to Swiss banks to collect gains, however ill-gotten.
The Europeans would probably never recall their ambassadors from Bern, but they can certainly embarrass the Swiss government for endangering Western security, and allowing Iran to continue its work toward a nuclear weapon.
Bern’s failure to adhere to the Western consensus sends the wrong message to Iran’s rulers. Switzerland, after all, serves as shuttle diplomatic center for talks between the U.S. and Iran. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Switzerland has represented U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran since 1980.
If the Swiss continue to sabotage sanctions efforts at a critical phase in pressuring Iran, the U.S. should consider replacing diplomatic representation in Tehran with the Polish or Czech embassies—two allies who have remained strongly pro-American.
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.