Switzerland's good offices include safeguarding foreign interests. After reaching a peak in the Second World War, the country currently exercises seven protecting power mandates.
Protecting power mandates
This involves taking on some of a state's consular and/or diplomatic tasks in the event that it has broken ties with another state in part or full. Protecting power mandates allow states to maintain low-level relations and provide consular protection to nationals of the other state concerned.
Switzerland can either offer to act as a go-between on its own initiative or can fulfil this function at the request of the parties concerned, provided that all those involved agree.
Iran in Egypt
Switzerland has been representing Iranian interests in Egypt since 1979.
USA in Iran
Switzerland has been representing US interests in Iran since 1980. Its Foreign Interests Section in Tehran handles all US consular affairs in Iran including passport applications, changes in civil status or consular protection for US citizens.
The protecting power mandate dates back to the 1980 hostage crisis when the US broke off relations with Iran following the country's self-proclamation as an Islamic republic, and students occupied the US embassy in Tehran taking a number of US diplomats hostage.
Russia and Georgia
Switzerland has been acting as protecting power for Russia in Georgia since the end of 2008 and for Georgia in Russia since the beginning of 2009. Both states use their own staff to carry out administrative, technical and consular matters on the ground but the foreign interest sections fall under Switzerland's protection.
Georgia broke off diplomatic ties with Russia after the August 2008 war and Russia's recognition of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Iran and Saudi Arabia
Switzerland represents Iran’s interests in Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia’s interests in Iran. It signed treaties with both countries to this effect at the end of October 2017, which entered into force in March 2018. The mandate covers consular services.
Saudi Arabia broke off relations with Iran at the beginning of January 2016.
Iran in Canada
Since June 2019, Switzerland has also been representing Iranian interests in Canada. This mandate does not cover consular services.
A centuries-old tradition
Switzerland first acted as a protecting power in the 19th century when it looked after the interests of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Grand Duchy of Baden in France during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. It also carried out protecting power mandates during the First World War. During the Second World War Switzerland became a protecting power par excellence on account of its neutrality, representing the interests of 35 states – including the major warring powers – with over 200 individual mandates. The number of mandates between 1948 and 1973 has fluctuated between four and twenty-four.