US Worried about Iran-Swiss Gas Contract

A00870808.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- The US has demanded to see a Swiss contract for natural gas supplies from Iran to see whether it violates an American sanctions law against Tehran, the US Embassy in Switzerland said Sunday.

A posting on the US Embassy Web site raises the question of whether neutral Switzerland’s position as representative of American interests in Iran and Cuba could be affected.

“At this time, the Swiss have a mandate as our protecting power in Cuba and Iran,” the Web site said in response to a “frequently asked question” on whether the Swiss role was “in jeopardy.”

The Swiss have represented US interests in Havana since diplomatic relations with Cuba were broken nearly 50 years ago, and in Tehran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the embassy posting.

Washington, which already had objected to the deal with Iran as violating the spirit of UN sanctions against Iran, made a formal request to see the contract March 17, the Embassy said.

That was the day it was signed in the presence of Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey during a visit to Tehran.

US Embassy spokeswoman Lisbeth Keefe said Washington originally had asked to see the contract last summer, long before the signing.

The Swiss have yet to produce the contract, the embassy said.

The 25-year contract, worth between $28 billion and $42 billion, is between Swiss energy trading company EGL and the state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Company.

The US Embassy said the State Department “closely reviews” oil and gas deals with Iran in view of the US Iran Sanctions Act.

Calmy-Rey has said that the contract is in line with Switzerland’s rights as an independent country with its own strategic interests to defend.

EGL, majority-owned by Axpo Holding AG, has said gas deliveries from Iran will begin in 2009. It plans to sell the Iranian gas to European customers.

Washington accuses Iran of using its nuclear program to produce nuclear weapons although it has never presented any corroborative evidence to substantiate its allegations. The United States has spearheaded UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Tehran has denied US allegations vehemently, saying it only wants to produce electricity for peaceful uses.

The US is also 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 Darkhoveyn 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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