Switzerland Dismisses US Criticism over Gas Deal with Iran

A0408063.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Switzerland has taken a firm stand on its independence after its multibillion-euro contract to buy natural gas from Iran provoked protests and threats not only from Washington but also from Zionist groups.

The deal between the Zurich utility Elektrizitats-Gesellschaft Laufenburg (EGL) and National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) would bring gas from Iran to Europe as early as next year.

The contract, worth between €10 billion (£7.8 billion) and €20 billion, was signed last week in Tehran in the presence of the two countries’ foreign ministers.

However, the deal to supply 5.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year for up to 25 years was condemned by the US State Department, which said that it would investigate the deal’s compliance with the Iran Sanctions Act.

“We don’t think that now is the time for people to be investing in Iran, not only in its petroleum or natural gas area, but in any sector of its economy,” a State Department spokesman said.

Israel also voiced a protest, calling Ms Calmy-Rey’s visit to Tehran an “act unfriendly to Israel”. Zionist organizations in Switzerland also said that they were disappointed with the Swiss Government’s support for the gas contract.

Ms Calmy-Rey’s decision to show a friendly attitude towards Iranians by wearing a headscarf – required by Iran’s Islamic rules – during the signing ceremony brought her condemnation in certain Zionist-influenced Swiss media. Yet, none of these could deter the Swiss foreign minister from improving ties with the oil and gas-rich Iran.

The Foreign Minister was robust in her defense of the gas deal and swept aside American criticism: “Switzerland is an independent country that has its own strategic interests to defend,” Ms Calmy-Rey said.

Sources within the Swiss Foreign Ministry also pointed to America’s continuing critique of Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. “After this deal, we will be well diversified, with a third from the North Sea, a third from Russia and a third from Iran,” a source said.

EGL said the initial delivery of Iranian gas was expected in 2009.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said that it had anticipated the US State Department’s reaction in regard to the Iran Sanctions Act. “We don’t accept the extraterritorial application of American law,” the ministry said.

The US is at loggerheads with Iran over Tehran’s independent and home-grown nuclear technology. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted the recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran seemed to be completely irrational.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin as well as its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.

US President George W. Bush, who finished a tour of the Middle East last month has called on his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.

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