A major U.S. Jewish organization on Tuesday stepped up opposition to a multibillion-dollar Swiss-Iranian natural gas deal by claiming it makes Switzerland "the world's newest financier of terrorism."
"When you finance a terrorist state, you finance terrorism," said the New York-based Anti-Defamation League in full-page advertisements in major Swiss newspapers and in similar ads in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. government and the World Jewish Congress have criticized Switzerland for the deal, saying it gives encouragement to Tehran's hard-liners.
The Anti-Defamation League said it "is concerned that Iran's profits from the energy deal could help the regime to accelerate and complete its nuclear weapons program and provide tens of thousands of additional missiles to Hezbollah and Hamas, two terrorist groups and sworn enemies of Israel who routinely benefit from Tehran's largess," said a statement on the league's Web site.
The version of the ad in The International Herald Tribune on Tuesday began, "Guess who is the world's newest financier of terrorism? Switzerland."
The Swiss Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism.
Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, distanced himself from the ads.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey went to Iran in mid-March for the signing of the a deal between the Swiss energy trading company EGL and state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Company. The deal is worth $28 billion-$42 billion.
The nationalist Swiss People's Party also has taken Calmy-Rey to task over a photo of the March 17 signing ceremony with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which a smiling Calmy-Rey in a white head scarf is seated below a picture of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Swiss: No sanctions violation
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said the deal conforms with U.N. and U.S. sanctions on Iran and that Switzerland is far down the list of countries buying exports from Iran.
Donath, whose organization had already criticized the gas deal, said the accusations were "exaggerated."
He confirmed a report in the Lausanne-based daily 24heures that he was personally briefed by Calmy-Rey on her Iran visit and that she did not like having to make the trip. He said he held the entire government responsible.
Calmy-Rey has said the contract is in line with Switzerland's rights as an independent country with its own strategic interests to defend.
EGL plans to sell the gas to European customers that rely heavily on natural gas from Russia — which in the past has used its monopoly to exert political pressure on its neighbors.
EGL, majority owned by Axpo Holding AG, has said gas deliveries from Iran will begin in 2009.