updated 3/19/2008 6:05:38 PM ET 2008-03-19T22:05:38

Switzerland's foreign minister, already under fire for a natural gas deal with Iran, also is provoking an outcry at home because she wore a headscarf at the meeting with Iran's hardline president when the accord was signed.

"Like a submissive woman," the Lausanne daily tabloid Le Matin said Wednesday in a front-page story showing a photo of Micheline Calmy-Rey wearing a white, semitransparent headscarf.

"Calmy-Rey wears the veil of discord," Tribune de Geneve said in its lead headline.

Numerous members of parliament also have voiced anger and incomprehension over Calmy-Rey's choice of attire when she met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday in Tehran to witness the signing of the multibillion-dollar deal between Swiss energy trading company EGL and the state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Co.

Calmy-Rey, outspoken in support of women's rights, brushed off the criticism upon her return Tuesday. She told reporters she had worn the headscarf to show respect to her host. She said it was not a sign of submission.

"Of course we have to respect customs," said Liliane Maury Pasquier, a Social Democrat like Calmy-Rey. But, she added, "Where is the solidarity with the women who fight against wearing the headscarf?"

Marianne Binder, spokeswoman for the Christian Democrats, was quoted by the Zurich-based mass-circulation daily Blick as saying, "That was an embarrassing prostration in front of Ahmadinejad, who represents the repression of women and denies the Holocaust."

Martine Brunschwig Graf, a Liberal member of parliament, said, "She let herself be manipulated into allowing Iran to push itself forward."

Iran's 'unacceptable punishments'
Calmy-Rey said discussions also focused on human rights and Iran's nuclear program. Switzerland has been seeking a diplomatic solution that would assure the world that the program cannot be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The U.S. had already criticized the gas deal as "sending the wrong message," counter to the sanctions imposed on Tehran by the U.N. Security Council over concerns about Iran's nuclear and missile program.

Calmy-Rey said the deal did not violate the U.N. sanctions.

Jewish organizations also objected because of Iran's hostility to Israel and because of fears Iran's nuclear program could be used to produce weapons against Israel.

In an interview with daily Basler Zeitung, the foreign minister said Swiss female diplomats working in Iran also wear headscarves when they think it appropriate. She said the headscarf did not detract from her commitment to human rights.

"We told our counterparts in Iran clearly that stonings or amputations are unacceptable punishments," Calmy-Rey said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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