- Title: Swiss humanitarian channel to Iran seen within months - Swiss, U.S. officials
- Date: 11th December 2019
- Summary: BERN, SWITZERLAND (DECEMBER 10, 2019) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF SWISS PARLIAMENT IN BERN SWISS FLAG VARIOUS OF SWISS STATE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, PASCALE BAERISWYL, TALKING TO JOURNALISTS (SOUNDBITE) (English) SWISS STATE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, PASCALE BAERISWYL, SAYING: "Yes, I mean, our goal is really to be able to provide food and health goods to the Iranian people. And for that we are working hard on establishing that humanitarian channel. The U.S. (Treasury) has recently published conditions and we had been working on that for a year now. And we are of course continuing to working hard to be able to implement that humanitarian channel." REPORTER AND PHOTOGRAPHER (SOUNDBITE) (English) SWISS STATE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, PASCALE BAERISWYL, SAYING: "Let me first say that we are very grateful that this was possible, and it is certainly a matter of trust and confidence-building which for us is very important with regard to our protection mandates. But also important for confidence-building and trust is that we cannot speak about what we are doing. So, I have to remain discreet on what we are doing but certainly I can express the hope that this was just a first step. And we stand ready if both parties wish it, to facilitate more (exchanges) of course." BAERISWYL TALKING TO JOURNALISTS (SOUNDBITE) (English) SWISS STATE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, PASCALE BAERISWYL, SAYING: "But of course, we also have to keep modest and say that it is ultimately in the hands of the countries of the region to avoid an escalation, a further escalation. And my sense is that no government in the region wants war. But the risk of course lies in the fact that there could be a misunderstanding if there is (are) so many incidents. And if we can help building trust in the region, we stand ready for that." UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN BERN U.S. FLAG VARIOUS OF UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO SWITZERLAND, EDWARD MCMULLEN, TALKING TO JOURNALISTS (SOUNDBITE) (English) AMBASSADOR OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO SWITZERLAND AND LIECHTENSTEIN, EDWARD MCMULLEN, SAYING: "Sanctions are not meant to hurt the people of Iran. There is a concern to ensure that the health and safety of the people of Iran is addressed and that is exactly how those humanitarian channels have been evaluated and developed. It takes time to ensure that when humanitarian dollars or humanitarian goods are sent to a country that they get there safely, they get to the people whom they are intended to help and the Treasury Department, at the direction of the president, has been working to ensure that if a humanitarian package is delivered, it gets exactly where it needs to go. Fortunately, I think we are at that point now where we are working with Switzerland on the final details. And hopefully we'll be seeing some finality to that conversation in the very near future."
- Embargoed: 25th December 2019 12:40
- Keywords: Iran Switzerland United States humanitarian channel prisoners swap
- Location: UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION / BERN, SWITZERLAND / INTERNET
- City: UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION / BERN, SWITZERLAND / INTERNET
- Country: Switzerland
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA002B9J7FBB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A humanitarian channel to bring food and medicine to Iran could be up and running within months, senior Swiss and U.S. officials told Reuters, helping supply Swiss goods to the struggling population without tripping over U.S. sanctions.
Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions that Washington reimposed last year after U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from a 2015 international deal over Iran's nuclear programme.
But the U.S. measures targeting everything from oil sales to shipping and financial activities have deterred several foreign banks from doing business with the Islamic Republic - including humanitarian deals - just as Iran grapples with major protests.
Pascale Baeriswyl, Swiss state secretary for foreign affairs, and U.S. Ambassador Edward McMullen spoke in separate interviews in the Swiss capital late on Tuesday (December 10), days after a rare Swiss-brokered prisoner swap by arch foes Iran and the United States.
"Our goal is really to be able to provide food and health goods to the Iranian people. And for that we are working hard on establishing that humanitarian channel. ," Baeriswyl said.
U.S. clarifications announced in October on how to verify and certify such deals - bypassing Iran's central bank and ensuring that no payments are transferred to Iran - helped advance the project so as to safeguard Swiss exporters.
Asked whether the mechanism could be operational in the first half of 2020, she expressed some hope.
McMullen was also upbeat. "Fortunately, I think we are at that point now where we are working with Switzerland on the final details. And hopefully we'll be seeing some kind of finality to that conversation in the near future," he said.
To be sure, big Swiss companies like Nestle and drugmakers Roche and Novartis already produce in Iran. The new channel could encourage smaller players to export food and medicine to Iran.
France has led efforts for more than a year to set up a separate European trade mechanism for humanitarian and food goods with Iran, which has stalled.
January marks the 40th anniversary of Switzerland's taking on a mandate of a neutral "protecting power", representing U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran since Washington and Tehran cut ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Baeriswyl, who held talks in Geneva with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in October that were revealed in Twitter posts, met him again in Zurich last weekend for the handover of U.S. and Iranian prisoners.
(Production: Cecile Mantovani)
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