The United States authorities have long been at odds with some Swiss banks, but could soon be turning their sights on Swiss-based commodity traders.
At issue are new economic sanctions against Iran passed by the US Congress at the end of last year, and which come into force on July 1.
Both the European Union and the US have imposed sanctions because they believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear progamme is for peaceful purposes only.
Switzerland has been unhappy about sanctions against Iran in the past, chiefly because it has represented US interests in Iran for over 30 years. It has also tried to mediate unofficially in the dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.
A year ago Switzerland stepped up its economic sanctions against Iran to bring them into line with those of the EU and the US, but only after coming under prolonged international pressure.
Now Switzerland finds itself being pushed into a corner once again. On January 23 the EU announced that it would step up its measures against Iran in the middle of 2012.
And on February 6 Barack Obama ratcheted up US sanctions yet further. He ordered an embargo on property and assets belonging to the Iranian government and to the Iranian central bank in the US. All Iranian financial institutions are also affected.
Switzerland stopped importing oil from Iran in 2006. According to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), in 2010 its imports of other items were worth only €27.4 million (SFr33 million). But its exports – mainly pharmaceuticals and machinery – were worth rather more: €562.6 million in 2010.
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