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French-Iran Swap Takes Place in Karachi : Mitterrand Says He Expects Freedom for 3 Remaining Hostages

December 01, 1987|From Times Wire Services

KARACHI, Pakistan — A French diplomat was exchanged for an Iranian interpreter here Monday in a deal to thaw a five-month diplomatic chill between Iran and France.

"We are happy," Hossein Kashani, Iran's consul general in the Pakistani capital, told reporters after the two freed men had left separately for their home countries.

Paul Torri, French consul in Tehran, and Wahid Gordji, an interpreter at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, had been kept under siege at their respective missions since July.

They were both flown to Pakistan on Monday and exchanged at Karachi airport in the presence of the two countries' consuls general and Pakistani Foreign Ministry officials. (Reports Sunday erroneously had Gordji departing Paris for Tehran, not Karachi.)

Karachi airport, where gunmen last year killed 22 people during a hijacking, was sealed off by police.

The dispute between France and Iran flared when French authorities sought to interview Gordji as part of the investigation into a series of bombings in September, 1985, in Paris.

The interpreter refused and took refuge in the Iranian Embassy. French authorities promptly sealed the building to prevent his escape.

In Tehran, authorities accused Torri of spying and black-marketeering and clamped a similar ring of steel around the French Embassy. France refused to let him testify, accusing Iran of trying to create a false parallel.

The two men submitted to questioning Sunday night and were then flown to Karachi for the exchange. Airport officials said they were searched, a document was signed, then the two were allowed to leave.

3 More Hostages

In Paris, with the 4 1/2-month embassy standoff ended, President Francois Mitterrand said the process should lead to freedom soon for the three remaining French hostages in Lebanon. But he cautioned that the issue must be pursued carefully, "with respect for the dignity of our country."

Iran said Monday that further improvement in relations depends on France halting arms sales to Iraq, with which Iran has been at war for seven years, and repaying all of a $1-billion loan the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi made to Paris 13 years ago.

During an interview on French television, Mitterrand cautioned against considering the exchange of Torri and Gordji a simple "diplomatic swap."

"You can't swap crime for innocence," Mitterrand said.

Questions were raised in France about possible infringement on the independence of Judge Gilles Boulouque's investigation of Gordji, who apparently was promised in advance he would not be charged with a crime.

"At the very moment he was in the judge's office, the airplane's motors were warming up," said Jean-Jack Queyranne, spokesman for the opposition Socialists.

Queyranne said the government, in obtaining the release of television newsmen Jean-Louis Normandin and Roger Auque from the pro-Iranian Shia Muslim group Revolutionary Justice Organization last Friday, seemed to have abandoned its pledge not to deal with terrorists.

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