Insight - West raises pressure on neutral Switzerland over Iran

Mon Nov 5, 2012 4:07pm GMT

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - Switzerland's neutrality is being tested as Brussels and Washington raise pressure over gaps in sanctions against Iran, in particular measures against its oil industry.

While Switzerland has replicated the western line on Libyan and Syrian economic sanctions, it has reasserted its traditional neutrality over Iran and opted out of some of the measures passed by Europe and the United States.

Washington and Brussels have severely tightened sanctions on Iran this year over accusations that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.

The EU imposed a ban on Iranian oil imports that took effect in July. Both the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Iran's central bank. New U.S. sanctions allow the White House to cut off access to the U.S. financial system by third countries that trade with Iran.

Switzerland says some of the measures simply go too far.

"We are not putting in place, or are applying differently, sanctions that seem to us to go too far and tend towards 'regime change'. In particular, that is the issue with the central bank, financial restrictions and the oil embargo," Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter told Reuters.

Since the main U.S. and EU sanctions took effect in July, Iran's rial currency has tumbled and its oil exports have fallen, which Washington and Brussels say shows that sanctions are now having a real effect.

The Swiss government chose not to join the European Union's embargo on Iranian oil in July and did not add Iran's central bank to a sanctions list. The gulf widened further in October, when the EU voted to tighten sanctions again.   Continued...

Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter looks on prior to his address to the Universal Period Review panel of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva October 29, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
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