French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday rejected an Iranian offer to release a French national detained in Tehran in exchange for the release of Iranian prisoners held in France, calling the offer “blackmail”.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran would not release Clotilde Reiss, a 24-year-old teaching assistant, unless France reciprocated.
Sarkozy’s response was unequivocal. “There will be no exchange,” Sarkozy told French television. “This is blackmail.”
Although Ahmadinejad did not mention any names with respect to Iranian prisoners in France, officials believe he was referring to Ali Vakili Rad, imprisoned in France for the 1991 Paris murder of Shapour Bakhtiar, who served as Iran’s prime minister under the deposed Shah, and Majid Kakavand, detained at the behest of the United States for allegedly purchasing sensitive technology on the Internet. An extradition request for Kakavand is under review at the French courts.
France rejects any comparison between Reiss and the Iranian prisoners held in French jails.
“Do you think I would be ready to swap Shapour Bakhtiar’s assassin for a young student whose only crime was to speak the Iranian language and love Persian civilisation?” Sarkozy asked.
French foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages said “there is no comparison between the situation of Clotilde Reiss and these people”.
“Some Iranians have been in prison in France for years,” Ahmadinejad told France 2 television on Tuesday, when asked about Reiss. “These are prisoners who also have a family, they also have a father and a mother …Unfortunately, we have seen no action by the French government in favour of these prisoners.”
Speaking through a translator, Ahmadinejad told the channel: “If we wanted to blackmail anyone, there would be simpler ways than that.”
How these latest diplomatic salvos will translate into action remains to be seen. “It’s not clear how and if [these] verbal attacks between Tehran and Paris will affect the [Reiss] verdict,” says AFP correspondent Aresu Eqbali, reporting for FRANCE 24 in Tehran.
Reiss was detained at an airport in Tehran on July 1 and charged with complicity in the mass protests that followed Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in a June 12 vote.
She was charged as part of a mass trial of protesters on August 8 and accused of “collecting information and provoking rioters”, according to Iran’s state-run media, allegedly for taking photos of the demonstrations with her cell phone.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has been vocal about his outrage over the affair, telling the French media on July 7 that Reiss “sent photos, just like hundreds – thousands – of photos were sent, pictures taken by mobile phone… That is not spying”.
Reiss was released from Tehran’s Insein prison on August 16 but is required to remain at the French embassy pending a verdict.