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Reiss, French woman tried for spying by Iran, returns home

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-19

Clotilde Reiss arrived in France on Sunday afternoon, where she was received by President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace. Reiss, held for 10 months in Iran on spying charges, was released Saturday.

AFP - French academic Clotilde Reiss flew home from Iran on Sunday, 10 months after she was arrested and accused of spying, as Paris denied striking a secret deal with Tehran.

A French government jet brought the 24-year-old to an airbase outside Paris, from where she was whisked to the Elysee Palace to be greeted by President Nicolas Sarkozy, after her lawyer paid Iran a fine of over 250,000 dollars.

Speaking briefly to reporters after she and her family met with Sarkozy, Reiss thanked him for protesting her innocence and paid tribute to her former fellow detainees, two of whom have been put to death.

"They treated me like a sister," Reiss said of fellow prisoners she met in Iranian custody, paying "particular homage ... to the two men you saw on television beside me at my trial, who have been executed."

Sarkozy said she had shown "exemplary courage and dignity".

Her arrival brought an end to a long drama which raised tensions between France and Iran and saw the young scholar paraded at a televised show trial and spend six weeks in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

The release came after a French court ruled against a US extradition request for an Iranian engineer and shortly before another judge was to rule on the parole request of a jailed Iranian assassin.

a thaw in franco-iranian relations?
But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner angrily insisted there had been "no haggling and no pay off" to ensure the release.

"This series of judicial rulings -- in France we don't influence judges' decision -- has nothing to do with any haggling, any alleged bargaining," he said, in an interview with Radio J.

But Sarkozy warmly thanked presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Bashar al-Assad of Syria for their "active role" in the release -- suggesting some backroom dealing.

Wade told RTL Radio he had offered, as chairman of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, to intercede with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on France's behalf, before being asked to stand down.

But well-placed observers, including former and serving French diplomats, said France had resisted Iranian pressure to tie Reiss' fate to that of the Iranian detainees and that French justice had simply run its course.

Francois Nicoullaud, a former French ambassador to Tehran, suggested that Iran's actions might even have slowed down the release of its nationals.

"French justice didn't want to give the impression it was under pressure from Tehran," he said.

Other sources said the release may have come about because Iran is under pressure over its nuclear programme and wanted to put at least one difficult case behind it before welcoming President Lula to a mini-summit.

Reiss was put on trial in August on charges of acting against national security, at a time when relations between Paris and Tehran were already hostile because of French concerns over Iran's nuclear programme.

At her first court appearance, which was televised, Reiss admitted taking part in anti-government protests "for personal reasons" and writing a report for an institute linked to the French embassy's cultural service.

For most of her time on remand she has been allowed to stay in the French embassy, but there were fears her case could lead to a long Iranian jail term.

On Saturday, Reiss' lawyer Mohammad Ali Mahdavi Sabet told AFP the court fined her 285,000 dollars (230,000 euros), "which I paid". He said he did not appeal the ruling, which he said was "almost an acquittal".

A French official said the sum was the surety that France had already paid to secure Reiss's provisional release to the embassy.

Described by friends as a serious scholar passionate about Iranian language and culture, Reiss was arrested shortly before flying home after completing a six-month research assignment in the city of Isfahan.

Her release came a few days after a French court ruled against the US extradition request for Iranian engineer Majid Kakavand, who has been held in France since March 2009.

Kakavand, who was freed and flew home last week, was arrested in France after Washington accused him of buying restricted electronic components and exporting them to Iran via Malaysia between 2006 and 2008.

But both Kakavand's name and that of another Iranian held in France, Ali Vakili Rad, have often come up in connection with the Reiss case.

A French court is expected to agree Tuesday on a parole request by Vakili Rad, who was convicted in 1994 of the 1991 murder of the deposed shah's last prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar.

Date created : 2010-05-16

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