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Associated Press: US demands to see Swiss-Iran contract

By BALZ BRUPPACHER, Associated Press Writer
Sun Mar 30, 8:00 PM ET

BERN, Switzerland – The U.S. 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 U.S. Embassy in Switzerland said Sunday.

A posting on the U.S. 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 U.S. interests in Havana since diplomatic relations with Cuba were broken nearly 50 years ago, and in Tehran since Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy 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 U.N. 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.

U.S. 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.

Washington accuses Iran of using its nuclear program to produce nuclear weapons, and has spearheaded U.N. sanctions against the country. Tehran, however, says it is only wants to produce electricity for peaceful uses.

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 U.S. Embassy said the State Department “closely reviews” oil and gas deals with Iran in view of the U.S. 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.

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On the Net:

http://bern.usembassy.gov

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