FDD Fellow Accuses Swiss FM of Endangering Switzerland, the West, and the Middle East

Foundation for Defense of Democracies and American Enterprise Institute scholars have been busy over the past week calling for the Obama administration to punish Russian, Chinese and Turkish companies which continue to do business with Iran.

But FDD fellow, Weekly Standard blogger and Jerusalem Post contributor Benjamin Weinthal raises the stakes by adding Switzerland to the list of countries which the U.S. should hold responsible for Tehran’s unwillingness to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.

In a Weekly Standard blog post earlier today, Weinthal attacks Switzerland’s Social Democratic foreign minister Michelin Calmy-Rey for her opposition to EU sanctions against Iran and her involvement in brokering a 2008 deal between a Swiss energy company, Elektrizitats-Gesellschaft Laufenburg (EGL), and the National Iranian Gas Export Company. The deal is estimated to be worth between 18 and 27 billion euros over a 25-year period.

Weinthal writes:

Her infatuation with Iran’s fanatical president was already on display back in 2008 when she helped broker Europe’s largest gas deal between EGL and Ahmadinejad. Through the deal, EGL intends to transport more than 5 billion cubic meters of Iranian gas each year over a 25-year period. While euphorically embracing Iran’s despotic president, Calmy-Rey quickly departed from her alleged feminist position and donned a headscarf.


While Calmy-Rey makes great efforts to champion her country’s “neutrality” (the Swiss are not a member of the EU), she and EGL are compromising the security of Switzerland’s roughly 8 million citizens, the West, and the Middle East region.

Weinthal goes on to call on the U.S. to sanction EGL. But his argument for what should be done about EGL and, more broadly, Switzerland offers some intriguing insights into the lengths that neoconservatives will go to enforce Iran sanctions and punish those who do business with Iran.

He concludes:

Given Switzerland’s anti-West foreign policy, the U.S should perhaps consider recalling Switzerland as the representative of U.S diplomatic interests in Iran. The conflict of interest is painfully obvious. How can the Swiss represent American interests when its foreign minister Calmy-Rey is actively undercutting the U.S. led sanctions strategy?

The difficulty with this is that Switzerland has performed an important function as the U.S.’s diplomatic channel in Tehran and, as recently as last week, played no small role in orchestrating the release of Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers held by Iranian authorities.

On September 16, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley kicked off his daily press briefing by telling reporters:

[B]efore [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] departed the [Middle East], she had the opportunity to talk to Swiss Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey, and in that conversation, she expressed the strong gratitude of the American people for the ongoing Swiss efforts not only that led to the release of Sarah Shourd, but the ongoing Swiss efforts to seek the release of Josh Fattal and Sarah – and Shane Bauer as well.

Indeed, while the Swiss role in Tehran has been invaluable in navigating diplomatic challenges, such as that presented by the arrest of the three hikers, some analysts have suggested that the lack of a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence  in Tehran has badly hurt Washington’s ability to gain useful intelligence about the rifts emerging in Iranian domestic politics and puts the U.S. at a distinct disadvantage as it seeks to convince the Iranian leadership to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.

Jason Shams, in a September 8 article in The National, wrote:

Without an embassy and presence in Tehran, policymakers in Washington are forced to rely on heavily censored Iranian media, other world leaders and diplomats who have their own agendas, and think tanks in Washington.

The US needs diplomats on the ground in Tehran. The Iranian government has its own interests section and diplomats in Washington, and they are active. They talk with lobbyists. They summon Iranians who speak with American officials and threaten to harm their relatives in Iran. I wish I could name them, but I can’t. The fact that I can’t name them shows that they are doing their job well.


On the ground, US diplomats in Tehran would be able to report that the people of Iran have a difficult but clear path to a free and democratic society. They would advise supporting the Iranian people and breaking the stranglehold on information that prevents moderates from being heard.

But Benjamin Weinthal, and his colleagues at FDD, appear more interested in punishing those countries which refuse to enforce sanctions against Iran than exploring what influence or insights these countries could offer in engaging with Iran’s leadership.

FDD’s Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz have called for the U.S. to punish Russia and China’s “subversiveness” on sanctions. AEI’s Michael Rubin has raised questions about Turkey transferring military technology, sold to Turkey by the U.S., to Iran. And now, FDD’s Benjamin Weinthal is proposing that the U.S. recall Switzerland as Washington’s diplomatic representative in Iran.

The lengths that neocons will go to to enforce sanctions appear to be growing on a daily basis. If these measures were implemented, so too would the costs.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.