Vital Swiss role as US-Iran go-between, as tensions soar

AFP - [email protected]
Vital Swiss role as US-Iran go-between, as tensions soar
Switzerland )here the parliament building) acts as an intermediary between the US and Iran. Photo: Photo by Andreas Fischinger on Unsplash.

Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations for decades, but before Iran's attack on Israel they had direct communications through "the Swiss channel".


Switzerland represents US interests in Iran, and at times of soaring tensions its role as go- between takes on heightened importance.

The Swiss foreign ministry refused Monday to divulge what actions the country had taken in connection with Iran's weekend attack on Israel.

But US and Iranian officials alluded to the important role Switzerland was playing as an intermediary.

As Washington engaged in whirlwind efforts prior to the attack to prepare for the expected violence, it sent "a series of direct communications through the Swiss channel", a senior administration official told AFP.

Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian armed forces' chief of staff, was more explicit, telling state television that "we sent a message to America through the Swiss embassy that if it cooperates with Israel in their next potential actions, their bases will not be secure".

 Maintaining relations 

Switzerland, renowned for its neutrality, has been representing US interests in Iran since Washington broke off relations with Tehran after the 1980 hostage crisis, a year after the Iranian revolution.

In its role as the so-called protecting power, Switzerland has for decades allowed the two feuding nations to maintain a minimum of diplomatic and consular relations.

The Swiss embassy in Tehran handles all consular affairs between the United States and Iran, including passport requests, altering civil status and consular protection for US citizens in Iran.

Under the protecting power mandate, Switzerland allows "states to maintain low-level relations and provide consular protection to nationals of the other state concerned", the foreign ministry explains on its website.

"Switzerland can either offer to act as a go-between on its own initiative or can fulfil this function at the request of the parties concerned, provided that all those involved agree," it added.


Switzerland has often had to play the go-between role.

The country has on several occasions in recent years mediated in prisoner exchanges between Iran and the United States.

Iran's interests in the United States are meanwhile represented by Pakistan.

Switzerland also exercises a range of other protecting power mandates.

It represents Iran's interests in Egypt and Canada.

And it represented Iran's interests in Saudi Arabia for five years before the two countries resumed diplomatic relations last year.

Saudi has not yet formally terminated Switzerland's protecting power mandate, so Bern still handles its consular services in Iran.

And until 2015, it represented US interests in Cuba and Cuban interests in the United States.

Switzerland first acted as a protecting power in the 19th century. It looked after the interests of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Grand Duchy of Baden in France during the 1870-71 Franco- Prussian War.

During World War II, Switzerland's neutral status paved the way for it to be the main protecting power, representing the interests of 35 states, including the major warring powers, with more than 200 individual mandates.


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