Switzerland confirms protecting power mandate

Burkhalter (left) previously attended bilaterial meetings with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. Keystone

The foreign ministry announced Sunday that Switzerland will represent the interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran, and those of Iran in Saudi Arabia, following the rupture of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

This content was published on February 14, 2016 and agencies

The agreement was the primary outcome of Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter’s recently concluded 24-hour visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – the first visit of a Swiss foreign minister in 60 years of bilateral relations between the two countries.

In the capital, Burkhalter met with the king of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and the Saudi foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. 

Burkhalter officially informed the Saudi authorities of a request made by Iran that Switzerland represent the interests of Tehran in Saudi Arabia. Given the good relations that Switzerland has with both countries, and given Switzerland’s interest in strengthening political stability in the region, Burkhalter also offered to represent Riyadh’s interest in Iran via a protecting power mandateExternal link.

Switzerland’s role will still need to be discussed in detail with representatives of both countries.

Protecting power mandates

A protecting power mandate allows essential basic services to be provided, such as the issuing of visas. If the countries concerned wish, Switzerland can also offer a communications channel, allowing exchanges between Saudi Arabia and Iran despite the absence of diplomatic relations. Both countries must consent to such an arrangement. According to the foreign ministry websiteExternal link, Switzerland’s other mandates include:

  • Iran in Egypt (since 1979)
  • United States in Iran (since 1980)
  • Russia in Georgia (since 13 December 2008)
  • Georgia in Russia (since 12 January 2009)
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During a press conference held after the talks, Al-Jubeir thanked Switzerland for its services and said that his country accepted Switzerland’s proposition. Burkhalter thanked the Saudi authorities for their hospitality and positive response.

"Switzerland offered to...handle the [consular] interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran, and we in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia appreciated that and accepted", al-Jubeir said in a statement.

Burkhalter clarified to Swiss public television RTS on Sunday that Switzerland will not play a mediating role between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but will rather serve as "a model of that which is fundamentally diplomatic" in the hopes of creating a communication channel.

The discussions also took stock of bilateral relations between the two countries, and addressed areas of tension in the region, particularly in Syria and Yemen. Burkhalter and Al-Jubeir agreed that cooperation between Switzerland and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia could be developed, notably in the areas of security policy, cooperation in international forums, and human rights issues.

Diplomatic responsibilities

News of Switzerland’s protecting power mandate between Saudi Arabia and Iran comes soon after speculation surrounding foreign minister Burkhalter's possible candidacy for the post of UN Secretary General, following current leader Ban Ki-moon's departure from office on December 31, 2016.  On Friday, Burkhalter was quoted by German-language newspaper NZZ as saying, "if there should be evidence that a candidate from Switzerland would be desirable, then we would discuss the situation in the cabinet, and decide in the interest of the country”.

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