Positive movement in efforts to relieve US-Iran tensions

Friday, 2020-09-11 12:04:16
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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) welcomes his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis (L), at the Iranian parliament office in Tehran, Iran, on September 7, 2020. (Photo: Swissinfo)
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NDO – The Foreign Ministers of Switzerland and Iran recently held talks on the topic of “peace, economic development and human rights”.

Representing the US interests in Iran, Switzerland is pushing for diplomatic efforts to ease tensions in the region as the US-Iran confrontation continues, with each taking moves to assert a tough attitude to the other side.

Unilateral US sanctions against Iran have caused serious economic damage to the Muslim nation. In the context of a sharp currency depreciation, a high unemployment rate and being heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Iran is at risk of shortages of medicine and medical equipment, and is also facing challenges in terms of the humanitarian aspect. Representing the US interests in Iran since Washington broke off relations with Tehran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Switzerland plays an important role in diplomatic efforts to mediate and alleviate US-Iran tensions, while serving as a channel of communication between the two sides.

During his recent visit to Tehran, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis talked with Iran’s leaders on the co-establishment of the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) channel to facilitate the transportation of aid items including food, medical supplies and other forms of humanitarian aid to Iran without violating US sanctions. Iran highly appreciated Switzerland’s efforts to lessen the impact of negative US steps, especially as Washington is pushing for an extension of UN arms embargo on Tehran regardless of opposition from European allies and the international community.

After the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and increased sanctions on Tehran, the remaining JCPOA signatories, including the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, are all striving to save the deal.

These countries have opposed the President Donald Trump administration’s activation of the “reverse process” to re-impose UN sanctions on Iran, a step that could completely destroy the historic nuclear agreement. In addition to strengthening pressure on Iran through sanctions, the US has also implemented a policy on increasing its influence in the Middle East. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to the area aimed to discuss with allies regarding measures to prevent “threats from Iran”. He touched upon the possibility of Washington providing the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the military equipment needed to defend itself against Iran. The US mediation for Israel and the UAE to reach an agreement on the normalisation of relations is also seen as a step to tighten the “grip” against Iran.

In response to increased US sanctions, Iran has strengthened its defence and uranium enrichment. According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the volume of Iran’s enriched uranium has increased to almost ten times over the agreed limit. Iran’s Defence Ministry recently announced that the locally made cruise missiles are capable of hitting targets more than 1,000km away. Iran has been completely self-reliant in the manufacturing of rockets and the development of many varieties of booster rockets that use solid and liquid fuels. Tehran has announced the start of a large-scale military exercise on September 10 in the eastern part of the country’s southern waters, with the participation of naval, air, air defence and infantry forces. Meanwhile, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) said the country is building a new facility to house centrifuges to replace the facility that was severely damaged in the Natanz nuclear site in early July, which Tehran described as an “act of sabotage”. However, Iran also showed goodwill in cooperation with the IAEA by allowing international inspectors to access one of its two nuclear facilities.

The prolonged confrontation between the US and Iran has not shown any signs of “cooling down”. Any diplomatic missions or goodwill attitude from the parties involved are encouraged. All attempts to contribute to creating positive movements and helping reduce the risk of conflict are welcomed by the international community.