Switzerland is close to launching an initiative to let companies sell food, medicine and medical devices to Iran using a payments channel that would be the first such mechanism to win Washington’s approval since it reimposed sanctions against Tehran. Berne’s humanitarian supplies plan — which is the subject of delicate ongoing talks with the US and Iran — comes as leading EU powers hope within weeks to set up a much-touted mechanism to finance broader trade with Tehran.
The simultaneous efforts highlight the transatlantic schism since President Donald Trump pulled out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran in May. While Switzerland’s work is consistent with Washington’s insistence that it will continue to allow humanitarian trade with Tehran, US officials have denounced the EU for its efforts to defy reimposed US sanctions on industries ranging from oil to finance.
The Swiss economic affairs department told the Financial Times it was “striving” to set up the humanitarian payments channel “as soon as possible” but could not give a start date. “Discussions are still ongoing with US authorities, Iran and Swiss companies,” it said. Switzerland — which is not an EU member and has a large pharmaceuticals sector and a tradition of neutral diplomacy — has strong credentials to be a base for the mechanism. Roche, the Swiss pharmaceuticals company, said it was aware of “discussions on a potential alternative financing channel for humanitarian purposes” but could not comment further.
“To our knowledge no concrete proposals have been made,” it said. The US state department signalled that it was comfortable with the Swiss channel: “We understand the importance of this activity since it helps the Iranian people. It has never been, nor is it now, US policy to target this trade.”
It added: “The United States maintains broad authorisations that allow for the sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical devices by US persons or from the United States to Iran. “In addition, US sanctions laws provide similar exemptions for sales of food, agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices by non-US persons to non-designated persons in Iran.”