Switzerland Honored with Award for Diplomatic Efforts in Iran

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Former Swiss Ambassador to Iran Livia Leu and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs have received a 2013 Common Ground Award for their diplomatic efforts in carrying out Switzerland’s mandate as a protecting power for the United States of America in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ambassador Leu will accept the award tonight at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Search for Common Ground, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization focusing on conflict resolution, honored former Swiss Ambassador to Iran Livia Leu and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) with an award for their work representing the interests of the United States of America in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Switzerland has acted as the protecting power for the U.S. in Iran since the two countries broke off diplomatic relations over thirty years ago. Livia Leu served as the Swiss Ambassador to Iran from January 2009 to July 2013.

The protecting power mandate for the U.S. is part of the good offices Switzerland provides to the international community within the scope of its humanitarian tradition. With the agreement of the two countries, Switzerland provides a confidential communications channel between the U.S. and Iran, thus supporting a dialogue between the two governments. The mandate also includes the consular protection of U.S. citizens in Iran. Switzerland repeatedly promoted the cause of prisoners with the Iranian authorities and enabled various U.S. citizens to leave the country. Between 2009 and 2011 Ambassador Leu and her team at the Swiss Embassy made great efforts to protect three imprisoned U.S. citizens, to organize a visit to Tehran by their mothers and to find a solution to their case. The prisoners were eventually released in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Switzerland currently has six protecting power mandates. In addition to protecting power mandates, Switzerland’s good offices include diplomatic mediation and organizing international conferences in Switzerland. Switzerland’s good offices have a long tradition and play a significant role in Swiss peace policy. The FDFA is eager to play an active role in diplomatic peace processes and use appropriate good offices to contribute to the peaceful settlement of conflicts.

For questions, please call Salome Ramseier, Head of Communications, Embassy of Switzerland in the United States at (202) 957-5201.

Background

Switzerland’s Protecting Power Mandates

Switzerland first acted as a protecting power in the 19th century when it looked after the interests of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Dukedom of Baden in France during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.

A protecting power mandate is required if two states break off diplomatic and/or consular relations in a conflict situation. It covers some of the duties carried out by the previous official diplomatic representation. Provided all parties involved agree, the protecting power represents the interests of one state (the sending state) in a third state (the receiving state) and provides protection for the citizens of the sending state who are living in the receiving state. Through these services a channel of communication is also kept open between the conflicting states.

Switzerland carried out protecting power mandates during the First World War, and in the Second World War, it became a protecting power par excellence on account of its neutrality. It represented the interests of 35 states, including the major combatant powers, with over 200 individual mandates. During the Cold War the number of mandates fluctuated between four (1948) and 24 (1973).

Switzerland’s Protecting Power Mandates at Present

Although less numerous today, the mandates entrusted to Switzerland as a protecting power still retain their full measure of political significance. Currently, Switzerland exercises the following six diplomatic mandates in representing the interests of:

  • The United States of America in Cuba
  • Cuba in the United States of America
  • Iran in Egypt
  • The United States of America in Iran
  • The Russian Federation in Georgia
  • Georgia in the Russian Federation

Only the mandate for representing U.S. interests in Iran can be characterized as a comprehensive mandate. The other mandates are of a more formal nature, meaning that in the given country, administrative and technical matters as well as consular affairs are handled by the foreign interests section of the country concerned using its own personnel. Those sections are placed under the high protection of Switzerland.

Switzerland’s Good Offices

In addition to protecting power mandates, Switzerland’s good offices include diplomatic mediation. Switzerland’s good offices have a long tradition and play a significant role in Swiss peace policy. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) is eager to play an active role in diplomatic peace processes and use appropriate good offices to contribute to the peaceful settlement of conflicts.

Good offices can simply be a matter of Switzerland offering its territory as a negotiating venue (i.e., in a hotelier function). But the types of conflict prevailing today tend to need much more active engagement in peace policy. Switzerland makes contact with conflict parties on the ground and functions as a mediator. Acting as a third party in this way, it can bring in its own experts and propose negotiating methods or solutions.

Switzerland's good offices include the following activities listed in the United Nations Charter:

  • Negotiation
  • Investigation
  • Mediation
  • Settlement
  • Judgments
  • Judicial decision
  • Use of regional institutions
  • Agreements or other peaceful means of choice

Switzerland’s Neutrality

Permanent neutrality is a principle of Swiss foreign policy. It is a generating source of peace and stability in Europe and beyond. It ensures the country’s independence and the inviolability of its territory. According to the law of neutrality, Switzerland must not participate in a war between states. Neutrality together with political and economic stability, a long-standing humanitarian tradition, and an unfailing commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law make Switzerland a trustworthy country for conflicting parties. Download fact sheet on neutrality here (pdf)

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Salome Ramseier, Head of Communications
Embassy of Switzerland
+1 (202) 957-5201
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