Relations between Switzerland and Iran focus on peace and security policy, human rights, the economy, science, sustainable development and migration. Because it is a neutral country, Switzerland has been entrusted with various protecting power mandates in relation to Iran, including representing the interests of the United States in Iran.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–Iran
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. In the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, priority thematic areas for Switzerland are regional stability and security, economic and financial cooperation, and sustainable natural resource management.
Switzerland's focus in Iran
The MENA Strategy 2021–24 identifies the following priorities for Switzerland in Iran: peace, security and human rights;sustainable development; economic affairs, finance and science; migration and protection of people in need.
1. Peace, security and human rights
In the area of security, Switzerland is launching regional security initiatives to promote dialogue between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula states. The protecting power mandates are implemented with the states involved and extended if possible (mandates in Saudi Arabia, Canada). They serve as a basis for further confidence-building measures by Switzerland. Switzerland is working internationally to ensure that the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme continues to be prevented. It supports the bilateral dialogue on human rights and justice with relevant projects.
2. Sustainable development
Switzerland is developing bilateral cooperation in water management. It includes Iran in regional initiatives in areas such as health, food security, water management and climate protection.
3. Economy, finance and science
Switzerland supports its companies in a context restricted by sanctions, for example through the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA). It supports Iran's integration into the normative framework of world trade, which also involves technical cooperation in intellectual property.
Switzerland has traditionally enjoyed good economic relations with Iran. Agreements exist on air traffic (1954, 1972 and 2004), road transport (1977 and 2018), export risk guarantees (1966), investment protection (1998) and double taxation (2002). A bilateral trade agreement has been in force since 2017.
However, the reintroduction of secondary sanctions against Iran by the United States poses challenges for the Swiss export sector. In particular, the Swiss banking and finance sector is cautious about doing business with Iran. In 2019 trade between the two countries amounted to CHF 350 million. Switzerland implements the UN sanctions that are binding under international law. On a case-by-case basis, Switzerland may also autonomously apply unilateral sanctions imposed by its main trading partners, including the EU.
Using existing formats, Switzerland is helping to connect research institutes in Switzerland and Iran and expand existing collaborations as part of Switzerland's International Strategy on Education, Research and Innovation.
Researchers and artists who are citizens of Iran can apply for a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship from the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). Furthermore, SERI has selected the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) as Leading House for South Asia and Iran to develop scientific collaboration between Switzerland and the countries of this region. Switzerland is promoting and encouraging scientific cooperation with key institutions during the 2017–20 funding period.
4. Migration and protection of people in need
Switzerland conducts dialogue on migration with a view to curbing irregular migration. Switzerland is keen to conclude a migration agreement with Iran.
Other areas of cooperation
The two countries maintain regular cultural exchanges. Several Swiss museums have received important works on loan from Iranian collections.
Switzerland regularly participates in events to promote the French language as part of the International Day of La Francophonie and also the Italian culture week (Settimana della Lingua Italiana nel Mondo). It also organises various cultural events.
Swiss nationals in Iran
In 2020, there were 204 Swiss citizens living in Iran.
History of bilateral relations
Swiss watchmakers settled in the Persian Empire as early as the 17th century. Economic relations expanded in the 19th century.
In 1873, Switzerland and Iran signed a friendship and trade treaty and in 1934 a friendship treaty and a treaty on permanent residence. Switzerland opened a consulate in Tehran in 1919 and has maintained an embassy there since 1936.
Iranians began coming to Switzerland in the 20th century as tourists, refugees and students.
During a state visit to Tehran in 2016, President of the Swiss Confederation Johann Schneider-Ammann signed a roadmap to strengthen bilateral relations with Iran.
In 2020, the two countries celebrated 100 years of Swiss diplomatic presence in Iran, culminating in an official visit to Tehran by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis.
Because it is a neutral country, Switzerland has been entrusted with various protecting power mandates in relation to Iran. It represents Iran in Egypt (since 1979), the US in Iran (since 1980), Iran in Saudi Arabia and vice versa (since 2017), and Iran in Canada (since 2019).