Reuters: France rejects prisoner swap for woman held in Iran

Dec 22, 20090 comments

frenchladyreutersPARIS (Reuters) – France urged Iran on Tuesday to deliver a swift verdict in the espionage trial of a young French teaching assistant, saying that she was innocent and a prisoner swap was out of the question. Clotilde Reiss, 24, who is out of jail on bail and staying at the French embassy, is accused of taking part in a Western plot to destabilize Iran’s government after the disputed June 12 vote in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected. “She is seeing the judge tomorrow for a final negotiation, well, not negotiation but dialogue between the judge and her, and I hope a verdict will be handed down as quickly as possible,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. Iran has floated the idea of letting Reiss go in exchange for the release of Ali Vakili Rad, an Iranian man who is in jail in France for the 1991 assassination of Shapour Bakhtiar, who had served as prime minister under the former Shah of Iran. French President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected the proposal in September, but since then it has resurfaced. Vakili Rad’s life sentence included a minimum jail term of 18 years, which expired this year. This means that in theory, he is now eligible for early release, fuelling speculation that Paris could let him go in return for Reiss. Kouchner said such speculation was completely wrong. “There is no possible swap between an innocent young woman who must be cleared by the Iranian justice system and people who have received precise sentences from French justice and who must serve their full terms,” he told a news conference. “A swap is out of the question. There is a French justice system. When convicts have served their jail terms they are released according to very precise rules. It is not up to the government to meddle in the affairs of justice,” he said. NUCLEAR ISSUE Reiss was arrested on July 1 and her trial started in August, when she was put in the dock alongside other accused and shown on Iranian television. Official Iranian media quoted her as admitting to “mistakes” and asking for clemency. Reiss, who relatives say is an admirer of Iranian culture who speaks Farsi, was arrested as she prepared to go home during the post-electoral turmoil, after five months spent working at the University of Isfahan. Her case has worsened tensions between Iran and France, already at odds over Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran appears likely to miss a year-end deadline set by Western countries for it to accept a deal on enriching nuclear fuel abroad. If it does miss the deadline, the United States has made clear it intended to seek tougher sanctions against Tehran. Kouchner said France agreed that if talks with Iran yielded no results then the issue of sanctions would arise, though his comments suggested Paris was less gung-ho than Washington. Asked whether December 31 was a firm deadline, he said: “Let’s not exaggerate. That day is not a cut-off point that means that afterwards we will no longer try and talk (with Iran).” “We will continue to talk … with all the Iranian leaders who wish to talk, except perhaps Mr Ahmadinejad,” he said, without elaborating. Source: