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Truth as Hostage

December 03, 1987

In a television interview the other night President Reagan once more indignantly denied that he had ever traded arms to Iran to get back two Americans held hostage in Lebanon. In Paris a few days later spokesmen for Premier Jacques Chirac's government denied no less indignantly accusations that France had effectively paid ransom to Iran to win freedom for two Frenchmen held in Lebanon. The French denial, like Reagan's, flies in the face of reality. Like the United States before it, France has acted to reward terrorism. That capitulation reinforces the sordid message that hostage-taking pays.

The French press quickly saw through the falsity of official denials that a corrupt bargain had been struck with Iran. Whatever excuses are made, the Chirac government plainly allowed an Iranian embassy employee to leave France despite strong evidence linking him to a series of terrorist bombings that killed 13 people. In return, Iran told its Lebanese surrogates to release two of their French prisoners--three more such hostages remain--and allowed a detained French diplomat to leave Tehran. France also has agreed to make a hefty repayment on an old loan from Iran and, maybe, resume buying some of the oil that the Iranians have lately had a hard time marketing. Chirac blandly suggests that this is all part of a routine diplomatic process aimed at normalizing relations. It's not. It's ransom, plain and simple.

The British government has strongly condemned France for betraying an allied agreement not to cut deals with terrorism. Washington has righteously chimed in through State Department spokesman Charles Redman with its own denunciation. An anonymous official hastened to explain that there was nothing hypocritical about the U.S. criticism, since the United States intends never to repeat its mistake of paying ransom to terrorists. That's always good to hear. It would be a lot easier to believe were it not for a President who continues to go around saying What ransom, what terrorists? and denying that any mistake was made.

Meanwhile, eight Americans along with two Britons remain among the 16 Western hostages known to be still held in Lebanon. The Chirac government's craven surrender seems certain to prolong their captivity.

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