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.