Swiss government to review ties with Saudi Arabia

There is growing pressure on Saudi Arabia following the killing of a dissident, Jamal Khashoggi, in Istanbul. Keystone

Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis says Switzerland will re-assess its political relations with Saudi Arabia following the killing of a Saudi dissident, Jamal Khashoggi, in Turkey earlier this month.

This content was published on October 24, 2018

Cassis told the Blick newspaper that there was clear “evidence of human rights violations and the disregard for the rule of law”.

He called for a thorough investigation and said the Saudi chargé d’affaires had been summoned by the Swiss foreign ministry for a third time on Monday to shed light on the case.

The government endorsed his statements during Wednesday’s regular cabinet meeting. 

Cassis stopped short of calling for a suspension of bilateral relations, saying international diplomacy and the promotion of peace were also important factors to consider. Switzerland represents Saudi Arabia’s interests in Iran and Tehran’s interest in Riyadh respectively.

“We want to leave this channel of communication open,” a cabinet spokesman said.  

The government has also agreed to re-consider a planned visit by Finance Minister Ueli Maurer to Riyadh next year.

Switzerland will join sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the United Nations decides to take punitive measures. A possible similar move by the European Union would be subject to a discussion by the government, according to the spokesman. 

Business and weapons

Saudi Arabia is a key partnerExternal link for Switzerland in the Arab world and the Middle East region.

The trade volume between the two countries was CHF2.5 billion ($2.5 billion) last year, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

Swiss exports include mainly pharmaceutical products, watches and machinery, while Saudi oil exports to European countries indirectly cover about 60% of Switzerland’s crude oil imports.

The government says it has asked Swiss armament companies to use restraint in business deals with Saudi Arabia.

Swiss weapons exports to Riyadh were suspended in 2009, but existing contracts for air defence ammunition and spare parts will be honoured, according to Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann. 

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