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Iranian Freed in Paris as Part of Hostage Deal

November 30, 1987|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — The French government allowed Wahid Gordji, the Iranian official suspected of helping terrorists in Paris, to leave the besieged Iranian Embassy and return home to Iran on Sunday as part of an obvious trade for two French hostages released by their captives in Beirut two days ago.

The office of Premier Jacques Chirac, in a carefully worded statement, also held out the hope that Iran would now use its influence to help arrange the release of the three other French hostages in Beirut.

The departure of Gordji, holed up in the embassy for five months, also appeared to signal an end to what the French press had called "the war of the embassies" and could signal an early resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

After Gordji refused to appear for questioning, France sealed off the Iranian Embassy here last June 30, blocking 45 Iranians inside, and Iran responded by sealing off the French Embassy in Tehran with nine employees inside. France broke relations with Iran over the Gordji affair July 17.

Suspected Intelligence Agent

On the surface, France, in releasing Gordji, merely followed its normal judicial procedures. The 27-year-old Gordji, officially listed as an embassy interpreter but widely regarded as an intelligence agent, had refused for five months to leave the embassy and submit to questioning by the French judge in charge of the investigation of the terrorist bombings that killed 13 people in Paris during the fall of 1986.

Suddenly, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Gordji, under police escort, was whisked in a black Mercedes to the Palace of Justice to be questioned by the investigating judge.

There was little doubt about the outcome of the questioning. A small jet plane was already waiting for Gordji at Le Bourget airport north of Paris. Judge Gilles Boulouque questioned Gordji, laid no charges against him, pronounced him a free man, and let him leave the Palace of Justice. The black Mercedes, with motorcycle police as escort, then sped him to the airport.

The plane took off for Tehran with Gordji aboard less than three hours after he had left the embassy for the Palace of Justice.

While this legal procedure was going on in Paris, a similar one was under way in Tehran. There, a Revolutionary Islamic Tribunal questioned French First Secretary Paul Torri about accusations that he had helped anti-government elements in Iran. Like Gordji, Torri was presumably cleared, for the French government announced later that he and the eight other diplomats in the French Embassy in Tehran will be allowed to leave Iran.

Torri had not been accused of anything until the French tried to arrest Gordji last June. The accusations were regarded by France as a trumped-up retaliation by Iran.

Although the parallel procedures on the surface suggested a trade of Gordji for Torri, French television analysts talked of the clearing of Gordji as part of an elaborate deal that led to the freeing of the two hostages Friday and could lead to the freeing of the three remaining French hostages in Lebanon soon.

Chirac Denies Paying Ransom

The influential Paris newspaper Le Monde had reported Saturday that the French government, to obtain the release of the two hostages, had surely paid a ransom, probably agreed to another repayment of a loan to Iran and probably negotiated a settlement of "the war of the embassies." Premier Jacques Chirac angrily denied that any ransom had been paid but said nothing about the other two aspects of a possible deal.

In its statement issued after Gordji left France, Chirac's office said that the latest developments had come about because Iran had used its influence on the kidnapers who released the two French hostages Friday. The statement said that this influence "should permit freedom for other detained hostages."

Viewed as a Detente

The statement went on to note that the questioning and departure of Gordji should lead to the lifting of the blockades of the embassies in Paris and Tehran and should be viewed "in the perspective of a detente in Franco-Iranian relations."

The release of Gordji, in some ways, could prove politically difficult for the Chirac government since several members of a militant Islamic cell accused of the Paris bombings had named Gordji as an official who helped and supplied them. Those bombings had terrorized and infuriated Parisians, and Chirac had pledged that the killers would not go unpunished.

Yet, the original decision to surround the Iranian Embassy and demand the questioning of Gordji had divided the government. Gordji evidently had served as the main Iranian contact for French Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials seeking the release of hostages in Lebanon.

Angry Ministry of Interior officials, in fact, have accused French diplomats of warning Gordji to take refuge in the embassy. The decision to lay siege to the embassy by surrounding it with police was looked on by some French diplomats as foolish police interference with French foreign policy.

2 Terrorist Organizations

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