GENEVA, March 16 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s foreign minister was travelling to Tehran on Sunday to sign a natural gas purchase contract between Iran and a Swiss utility, a deal she said could help ease Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
Micheline Calmy-Rey would also meet Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and other officials to discuss Iran’s human rights record and ongoing international concerns about the country’s nuclear programme.
The gas deal between Elektrizitaetsgesellschaft Laufenburg (EGL) EGL.S and the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) does not violate United Nations or U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran, Calmy-Rey said.
“This contract does not violate any of the sanctions,” she told journalists before her departure at Geneva airport.
“It is planned that natural gas from Iran together with natural gas from Azerbaijan will one day feed into a gas pipeline running from Greece via Albania to Italy,” the Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement.
EGL said last year it had completed a 25-year deal with NIGEC to deliver 5.5 billion cubic metres of gas per year to Europe through a pipeline scheduled to be complete in 2010.
The energy group at the time declined to disclose the value of the deal, but said it was above 10 billion euros ($13.32 billion) and below 22 billion euros, depending on a number of factors such as the price of energy.
Calmy-Rey said she had been invited by Iran to visit and sign the deal. She said it was in Switzerland’s strategic interest to diversify its source of energy supplies.
“We decrease our dependence, and the dependence of Europe, on Russian gas,” she said.
Switzerland has worked in the past to find a compromise in Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West.
Washington has led international efforts to penalise Iran for failing to allay suspicions that it is seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely civilian. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis in Geneva and Douwe Miedema in Zurich; Editing by Charles Dick)