By Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (Reuters) – The United States is in talks with at least two more companies considering use of the newly created Swiss humanitarian channel to send food, medicine and other critical supplies to Iran, the top U.S. envoy to the Islamic Republic said on Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said there was a lot of interest from food and drug companies in using the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), through which the first shipments of medicine had been sent last month.
“We have at least two more companies that we are in specific talks with … Now that I think as more companies are learning about it (the channel) – medical companies and drug companies, pharmaceutical companies – there’s now a lot of interest in using that channel,” he said.
The SHTA seeks to ensure that Swiss-based exporters and trading companies in the food, pharmaceutical and medical sectors have a secure payment channel with a Swiss bank, through which payments for their exports to Iran are guaranteed.
Hook did not identify the companies but he said there will be more shipments. He added that he had met with Deputy Treasury Secretary Justin Muzinich last week “to talk through how we’re doing on the next transactions … you will see more transactions coming,” he said.
Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from the sanctions that Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump walked away from a 2015 international deal over Iran‘s nuclear program.
But the U.S. measures targeting everything from oil sales to shipping and financial activities have deterred several foreign banks from doing business with the Islamic Republic – including humanitarian deals.
Politically neutral Switzerland has been working with U.S. and Iranian authorities and selected Swiss banks and Swiss companies on the plan. The U.S. Treasury Department will provide banks involved with assurances that financial transactions can be processed without violating U.S. law.
The project, in the works since 2018, kicked off in January with an initial payment for a shipment to Iran of cancer drugs and drugs required for organ transplants worth 2.3 million euros ($2.55 million), the Swiss government said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Lisa Lambert Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)