Academic imprisoned in Iran returns to France

A YOUNG Frenchacademic flew home from Iran yesterday, 10 months after she was arrested and accused of spying, as France denied striking a secret deal with Tehran.

A government jet brought researcher Clotilde Reiss, 24, to an airbase outside Paris after her lawyer paid Iran a fine of more than a quarter of a million dollars, and she was whisked to the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Speaking briefly to reporters after her meeting with Sarkozy, she thanked the French leader for protesting her innocence and paid tribute to her former fellow detainees, two of whom were 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”.

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.

But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner angrily insisted there had been “no haggling and no pay off” to ensure the release and said there had been no link between the French and Iranian cases.

“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 must have taken place.

Wade told RTL Radio that 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.

He accused Sarkozy’soffice of derailing his negotiations and said that if he had been allowed to continue “Clotilde Reiss would have been freed six months ago. I had a very precise programme for her release”.

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