Good offices between Saudi Arabia and Iran: green light from the Saudi authorities

Bern, 14.02.2016 - Switzerland will represent the interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran and those of Iran in Saudi Arabia following the recent breakdown in diplomatic relations between the two countries. This is the main outcome of Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter's 24-hour visit to Riyadh, during which he met with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. During the talks in the Saudi capital, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs also discussed bilateral relations between the two countries and addressed sources of tension in the region, including Syria and Yemen.

Mr Burkhalter officially informed the Saudi authorities of Iran’s request for Switzerland to represent Tehran’s interests in Saudi Arabia. In view of the good relations that Switzerland maintains with both countries and Switzerland’s desire to increase political stability in the region, Mr Burkhalter also offered to represent Riyadh’s interests in Iran (through a protecting power mandate).

During a press conference held after the meetings, Mr Al-Jubeir thanked Switzerland for its good offices and announced that his country accepted Switzerland's proposal. Mr Burkhalter thanked the Saudi authorities for their hospitality and for agreeing to Switzerland's proposals. The details of Switzerland’s role will be further clarified with representatives of both countries.

A protecting power mandate consists in delivering basic consular services, such as issuing visas; if the countries in question so desire, Switzerland can also provide a channel of communication in the absence of diplomatic relations. For Switzerland to assume this type of mandate, both parties must give their approval. The issue was raised during a meeting in Davos between Mr Burkhalter and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, and several days later the Iranians agreed to have Switzerland represent Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia.

During his talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Foreign Minister Adel ben Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Mr Burkhalter enquired into the Saudi position on crises affecting countries in the region, with a particular focus on the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. He reminded his Saudi counterpart of Switzerland’s position, which calls for governments in the region to refrain from provocations and to contribute to easing tensions through dialogue. According to Mr Burkhalter, it was in this spirit that Switzerland offered its good offices, a service in which the country has longstanding expertise.

Mr Burkhalter’s visit to Riyadh was the first by a head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in 60 years of bilateral relations between the two countries. Mr Burkhalter and Mr Al-Jubeir agreed that collaboration between Switzerland and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could be expanded in such areas as humanitarian affairs, security policy, cooperation in international bodies and human rights.

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