Switzerland's shabby deal with Iran
By Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress
The ejection of the populist politician Christoph Blocher from the Swiss government in December 2007 gave rise to hope that Switzerland could restore its tainted image and that the country’s “splendid isolation” on the international stage might soon be over. In an opinion piece for “NZZ am Sonntag” on 30 December 2007 I wrote: “Switzerland will not have a glorious future by isolating itself from the European Union and the wider world. In our globalized world (…) you cannot isolate yourself if you want to be heard. Swiss diplomacy can only return to its former strength if the Federal Council and the parties supporting it once again represent an open-minded Switzerland.”
Who would have thought that this call would be heeded so quickly, but in such an unexpected direction? Two weeks ago, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey appeared, veiled in a headscarf, at the side of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to seal an enormous deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company. She did so on behalf of a private Swiss company, “to safeguard Switzerland’s own strategic interests,” as she put it.
Back home, Calmy-Rey said that she had pressed Tehran on issues such as human rights or the nuclear program. The Iranian newspaper “Tehran Times” phrased it somewhat differently: “Calmy-Rey appreciated Iran for its cooperation with the IAEA. She also called for the continued Iran-Switzerland dialogue on human rights.” It became clear immediately that the visit by the Swiss foreign minister was a propagandistic triumph for the mullahs.
A few days after the Iranian gas deal, Calmy-Rey’s Foreign Affairs Department secured the election of Jean Ziegler as special adviser of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Ziegler, a self-declared human rights activist, is best known as campaigner for dictators such as Colonel Khaddafi of Libya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Brushing aside all criticism leveled against Ziegler by respected international personalities and organizations, Calmy-Rey got her preferred candidate elected by forging alliances with the many Asians and Africans represented on the council – the same countries that rarely miss an opportunity to bash Israel for defending itself against the attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah. Incidentally, it was Jean Ziegler who in 2006 claimed that Hezbollah in Lebanon was not a terrorist group, but a “national resistance movement”. He even expressed understanding for the kidnapping by Hezbollah of the two Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who have not been released until this day.
In early March, Micheline Calmy-Rey personally appeared before the Human Rights Council to advocate a one-sided resolution, sponsored by Islamic countries, condemning Israel for its operations in the Palestinian territories – operations that are aimed at protecting Israel’s citizens from the constant rocket attacks by Hamas supporters. While all European Union countries on the council abstained, Switzerland voted in favor of the one-sided resolution, yet the Human Rights Council failed to condemn the deadly terrorist attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary which had occurred shortly before.
There is nothing wrong with governments defending their national interests, but such actions should be centered around certain basic principles, i.e. those of democracy, peace and human liberties.
There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel, provided equal measures of judgment and criticism are being applied to all countries.
What is horribly wrong, though, is Mrs. Calmy-Rey’s flawed foreign policy. It makes Switzerland a hostage to countries that, rather than respect human rights, pay merely lip service to them. This is especially true of international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council that has lost its credibility in the record-breaking time of 18 months.
Only days after the manipulated parliamentary election in Iran, Mrs. Calmy-Rey chose to lend public support to the Islamist regime in Tehran, whose declared aim is the eradication of Israel, while at the same time strengthening Israel’s (hypo-)critics at the United Nations in Geneva. But beware: placating the mullahs in Tehran comes with a heavy political price tag.
Micheline Calmy-Rey has gravely undermined the efforts of the international community, in particular the five permanent members on the UN Security Council and Switzerland’s neighbor Germany, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power eventually capable of wreaking havoc on Israel and the entire Middle East. How on earth can we expect the sanctions regime to achieve results if a UN member – host country to many UN bodies – makes a mockery of the United Nations?
The current Swiss government has chosen to reduce the country’s natural gas dependence on Russia by helping a Swiss company to clinch a deal with another (the Islamic Republic of Iran).
The Swiss Jewish Community Federation is right to point out that Mrs. Calmy-Rey’s trip to Tehran sends out all the wrong signals. The US government is correct in criticizing Switzerland for setting a bad example for the rest of Europe.
It would be naïve to believe that Micheline Calmy-Rey’s announcement of a “human rights dialogue” with the rulers in Tehran will lead to any concrete improvements of the situation in Iran. The hanging and stoning of dissidents, students, homosexuals and other regime critics; the rigging of elections; the anti-Israel campaign sponsored by Tehran and its allies Hamas and Hezbollah that is violent both in words and in action; the denial of the Holocaust; the apparent quest for nuclear weapons: all that will continue, not only in spite of, but perhaps also because of the gas deal.
The concept of Swiss neutrality has a long tradition, but Switzerland’s credibility as an honest broker in international diplomacy has been badly bruised. Mrs. Calmy-Rey has sold out her government’s international credibility in return for 5.5 billion cubic meters of Iranian natural gas and perhaps for some new friends in the radical Muslim world – definitely not a good investment! The next months will show if this Swiss diplomacy will be able to undo the damage that has been done.
Read about the WJC's campaign to Stop the Iranian Threat