BERN, Switzerland — Swiss leaders used a meeting on Sunday with the top U.S. diplomat to attempt to resuscitate American leadership towards the important post-World War II multilateral institutions it has attacked by reneging on Iran’s nuclear deal and other international treaties and organizations.
Prodded by the Swiss, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during his visit to Switzerland that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration was willing to hold unconditional talks with Iran in a bid to lower tensions.
“We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions,” he said. “We’re ready to sit down with them. But the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.”
Having represented U.S. interests in Iran since 1980, Switzerland holds unparalleled insight into America’s standoff with the Islamic Republic. The United States and Iran were once allies in the wake of the 1953 revolution that ushered in Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s rule. Then came the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which led to severed diplomatic relations, the U.S. Embassy takeover and the hostage crisis.
Iran was at the top of the agenda during Pompeo’s meeting with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis near his hometown in southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino canton, close to Italy’s border. Their meeting marked the first time a U.S. secretary of state held bilateral talks with Switzerland in two decades.
Americans and Swiss both depend on the U.S.-led multilateral system forged out of Europe’s restructuring from two world wars, according to a statement from Cassis after the meeting, but that system is now threatened by America’s rising tensions with Iran, Venezuela, Russia and China.
Cassis said he urged the Trump administration to help ease humanitarian aid deliveries in Iran and Venezuela, and to back U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ management reforms for the United Nations, which Trump frequently lambastes as he withdraws the United States from more international organizations and treaties.
The Swiss diplomat indicated, however, that Pompeo was persuaded multilateralism still held importance.
“We have then touched upon multilateralism. The 100th anniversary of the birth of the League of Nations in 1919 — multilateralism, which the U.S. are now trying to put under pressure so as to cause changes,” Cassis told a joint news conference with Pompeo. “But we both agreed that the world needs multilateralism, and this has to be as effective as possible, and that’s why Switzerland, like U.S., are in favor of the ongoing reforms with different approaches.”
In March, Cassis and the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Edward McMullen, signed an agreement for Switzerland to represent U.S. interests in Venezuela, but it still awaits approval from Venezuela’s government.
In January, Venezuela’s opposition-majority National Assembly declared Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s 2018 re-election invalid and named the assembly’s president, Juan Guaidó, as interim president. Maduro, backed by the military, refused to concede power. The cash-poor, oil-rich nation suffers from severe hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages, but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was recently authorized to deliver emergency aid.
Pompeo has been trying to reassure some of America’s allies about the Trump administration’s approach to Iran while emphasizing the United States will continue raising pressure on it through economic sanctions. Many European and Middle Eastern leaders worry about a potential escalation between the U.S. and Iran.
“The situation is very tense, and we are fully aware — both parties are fully aware of this tension. Switzerland, of course, wishes that there is no escalation, no escalation of violence in Iran, although the situation seems to be quite tense at present,” Cassis said at the news conference, where he suggested the Swiss could broker direct U.S.-Iran talks as a diplomatic go-between.
“The situation and what we can do as Switzerland is to be intermediators, not mediators, if there is no goodwill from both parties,” he said. “Both parties are now increasing the pressure, and for us this is a matter of worry, but we cannot do anything unless we get a mandate from both parties.”
My meetings with @ignaziocassis demonstrated that our ties run deep. We discussed the U.S.-Switzerland relationship and ways to further advance trade and investment, collaborate in research and development, and counter transnational crime and terrorism. pic.twitter.com/Yi1lM3Gvmj
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 2, 2019
Dialing down Iran tensions
Pompeo’s visit to Switzerland after the first leg of his trip to Germany came as part of a European trip during which he will also visit the Netherlands before joining Trump on his state visit to Britain.
Before joining Cassis in Ticino’s capital Bellinzona, Pompeo toured the Swiss capital — founded in the 12th century on a hill surrounded by the Aare River — including the Swiss Confederation’s parliament building, or Bundeshaus, at the edge of Bern’s unusually well-preserved Old Town that was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. He also met with employees at the U.S. Embassy in Bern.
Pompeo and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended the annual Bilderberg Meeting, an even more exclusive gathering than the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The meeting was limited to 130 political leaders and experts from 23 nations, the Bilderberg Meeting said in a statement.
That meeting was held along Lake Geneva in Montreux, famous for its jazz festival and the site where Pompeo’s predecessor John Kerry worked on behalf of the Obama administration to secure the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. As a result of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal, Iran announced plans in May to resume enriching uranium at higher levels if other world powers will not agree to some new terms.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told a televised address the higher enrichment would begin in 60 days and Iran would no longer comply with other aspects of the treaty, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, by discontinuing exports of excess uranium and heavy water from its nuclear program.
Highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear weapons. But the JCPOA amounted to a gambit by world powers to permit the Mideast regional power’s economic opening to the West in exchange for curbs on its nuclear ambitions.
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal and reintroduce U.S. sanctions on Iran last year ratcheted up pressure on its struggling economy and ruling regime, while further inflaming transatlantic tensions.
Despite the U.S. withdrawal, Iran remained part of the nuclear deal that had involved all five permanent veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union.
Until recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency, an anti-proliferation arm of the United Nations, said its efforts to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear program showed the JCPOA was working. But on Friday, IAEA reported Iran may now be violating limits on the number of advanced centrifuges it can use.