The US has vowed to provide increased support to a Swiss mechanism allowing humanitarian aid to reach Iran without stumbling over US sanctions, Switzerland’s foreign minister said Tuesday.
The mechanism “works, but it is not used enough,” Ignazio Cassis told reporters, voicing “satisfaction with the US openness to supporting this instrument more to help the Iranian people.”
His comment came after he and Swiss President Guy Parmelin met briefly with Joe Biden shortly after Air Force One touched down in Geneva, where the US president is due to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
The so-called Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), took effect in February last year.
It was created in close cooperation with US and Iranian authorities to allow Swiss companies in the food, pharmaceutical and medical sectors to make aid shipments to Iran without drawing the wrath of Washington for breaching a vast range of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Iran has been facing severe medical shortages since the US under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on the country in 2018.
The US decision to abandon the 2015 deal led Tehran to step up its nuclear activities.
Biden has indicated a willingness to rejoin the agreement once it is sure Iran is willing to respect its commitments, but in the meantime the sanctions remain in place.
Washington has exempted humanitarian goods, especially medicines and medical equipment from its punitive measures.
But international purchases of such supplies are often impossible since international banks refuse to do business with Iran for fear of falling foul of sanctions themselves.
“There are always money transfers that are waiting for permission from here and from there,” Cassis said, explaining why the Swiss system was not used as much as it should be.
But now, he said, “There is a willingness from the Americans to accelerate this type of decision in a way that makes it possible to use this existing channel.”
Switzerland, renowned for its neutrality, has represented US diplomatic interests in Iran for more than four decades.