Keep Us Strong WikiLeaks logo

Currently released so far... 2497 / 251,287

Articles

Browse latest releases

Browse by creation date

Browse by origin

A B C D F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z

Browse by tag

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
QA
YE YM YI

Browse by classification

Community resources

courage is contagious

Viewing cable 09PARIS1097, IRAN: FRENCH COMMENTS ON DEALING WITH HOSTAGES

If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Understanding cables
Every cable message consists of three parts:
  • The top box shows each cables unique reference number, when and by whom it originally was sent, and what its initial classification was.
  • The middle box contains the header information that is associated with the cable. It includes information about the receiver(s) as well as a general subject.
  • The bottom box presents the body of the cable. The opening can contain a more specific subject, references to other cables (browse by origin to find them) or additional comment. This is followed by the main contents of the cable: a summary, a collection of specific topics and a comment section.
To understand the justification used for the classification of each cable, please use this WikiSource article as reference.

Discussing cables
If you find meaningful or important information in a cable, please link directly to its unique reference number. Linking to a specific paragraph in the body of a cable is also possible by copying the appropriate link (to be found at theparagraph symbol). Please mark messages for social networking services like Twitter with the hash tags #cablegate and a hash containing the reference ID e.g. #09PARIS1097.
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09PARIS1097 2009-08-12 14:02 2010-12-02 15:03 SECRET Embassy Paris
VZCZCXYZ0021
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHFR #1097/01 2241402
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 121402Z AUG 09 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NSC WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6952
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
S E C R E T PARIS 001097 

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDED TAG) 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/12/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL CASC FR
SUBJECT: IRAN: FRENCH COMMENTS ON DEALING WITH HOSTAGES 

REF: PARIS 1046 

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kathleen H. Allegrone, for 
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 

1. (S) SUMMARY: President Sarkozy's Strategic Affairs 
Advisor Franois Richier and MFA Middle East Director (A/S 
equivalent) Patrice Paoli told Political Minister Counselor 
in separate meetings August 11 that the French approached 
their hostage situations in Iran by first seeking an 
immediate, behind-the-scenes resolution before the Iranians 
brought charges against their captives, and then, once that 
approach failed, by adopting a two-pronged strategy: (1) 
relentlessly publicizing the cases with repeated employment 
of key words chosen carefully to put the Iranians on the 
defensive, and (2) constant exertion of diplomatic and 
political pressure, with the help of allies, in the form of 
regular demarches in Tehran and convocations of Iranian 
Ambassadors in European and Middle Eastern capitals. Paoli 
and Richier predicted that the Iranians will advise us, via 
the Swiss, to remain calm and quiet while waiting for Iranian 
legal procedures to move forward. Ignore this warning, they 
insisted, because silence will not expedite the process. 
They argued that USG statements and actions can sway and even 
mobilize public opinion within Iran. Whether or not we 
choose to speak out, they warned, the Iranians will 
energetically disseminate fabricated accusations. As the USG 
seeks to engage the Iranians, Richier predicted it will be 
difficult to determine which Iranian institution currently 
has control of American hostages and, more importantly, which 
one has the authority to decide their fate. The French still 
have not identified a key broker within the Iranian 
government with the power to resolve their own hostage cases. 


2. (S) SUMMARY (CONT'D): Paoli and Richier also warned of 
possible Iranian efforts to blackmail the USG. They may try, 
for instance, to drag out the cases of the American and 
French hostages through the US/EU late September deadline for 
a response from the regime on the nuclear issue. Richier 
said the French believe this familiar Iranian tactic -- 
hostage-taking as political blackmail -- will only increase 
in the near future. The Iranians may also seek specific 
exchanges, such as the release from French custody of Majid 
Kakavand, an Iranian national whom the French arrested March 
20 at Charles de Gaulle airport on the behalf of the U.S. 
Department of Justice on proliferation issues. Overall, as 
the USG prepares to handle its hostage cases, the French 
recommended we prepare for uncertainty. In the face of 
unpredictable Iranian behavior, Paoli and Richier said that 
constant pressure from foreign leaders and the media appears 
to be the only means to accelerate decision-making in Tehran. 
They also reported that the EU has no plans at the moment to 
recall its Ambassadors from Iran. END SUMMARY. 

STEP 1: SEEK BEHIND-THE-SCENES RESOLUTION 
----------------------------------------- 

3. (S) Franois Richier and Patrice Paoli told the Political 
Minister Counselor that each time they learned of the arrest 
of their citizens in Iran, the GOF sought their immediate 
release through discrete but direct contact with Iranian 
officials. (NOTE: Richier was accompanied by Mr. Lioutaud 
from the Office of French National Intelligence Coordinator, 
Bernard Bajolet (equivalent to our Director of National 
Intelligence). END NOTE.) They hoped to act quickly enough 
to prevent the regime from pressing formal charges. Once the 
Iranians refused to release the prisoners, Paoli said, the 
prosecutors publicized the charges and began preparations for 
a public trial. A trial seems to be a pre-condition for the 
release of foreign detainees in Iran, whom the French 
described as "hostages" held in order to achieve political 
goals. 

STEP 2: USE THE MEDIA TO PUT IRANIANS ON DEFENSIVE 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 

4. (S) Once the quiet approach failed, the French launched a 
relentless public relations strategy. They did not merely 
wait for questions from the press; instead, they made 
frequent pronouncements of their own about the hostages. 
They publicized the cases with repeated use of key words 
chosen carefully to put the regime on the defensive by 
influencing Iranian public opinion. Paoli and Richier 
emphasized the susceptibility of the Iranian population to 
messages sent through the media. USG public statements can 
sway and even mobilize public opinion within Iran, they 
claimed, especially in the post-election environment. 
5. (S) In their statements, the French repeatedly employed 
key words to focus attention on the rights of detainees, and 
on Iranian legal commitments to respect those rights, such as 
"basic human rights," "good treatment," "Vienna Convention." 
They also used words to refute the regime's false 
accusations, like "innocent," "baseless," and "immediate 
release." Paoli said the French have deliberately avoided 
using the word "negotiation" when describing their contact 
with Iranian leaders: "We demand only their immediate 
liberation; we do not negotiate for the release of innocent 
civilians." (NOTE: Paoli said he strongly regretted the 
mistaken use of the word "negotiate" recently by a GOF 
spokesman. END NOTE.) 

6. (S) Moreover, the French predicted that the Iranians will 
advise us, via the Swiss, to remain calm and quiet. They 
will imply that the cases will be resolved more quickly if we 
just wait for the Iranian legal procedures to move forward. 
Ignore this warning, Richier and Paoli insisted. "Be vocal," 
Richier advised, "even more so if the Iranians ask you not to 
be," because silence will not expedite the process. "They 
are the masters of stalling tactics," Paoli said. Whether or 
not we choose to remain silent about the cases, the Iranians 
will launch a media blitz. They will energetically 
disseminate fabricated accusations about their captives, 
Richier predicted. Paoli and Richier both acknowledged that 
an aggressive USG public posture involves risks as well, as 
it will "increase the value" of the hostages to Iranian 
leaders. Nonetheless, they said they still believe that 
public pressure, on balance, will prove more effective than 
behind-the-scenes engagement. Ideally, both public 
statements and private discussions can take place 
simultaneously. 

STEP 3: CALL ON ALLIES (AND OTHERS) TO PRESSURE IRAN 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 

7. (S) Paoli and Richier advocated the constant exertion of 
diplomatic and political pressure on the Iranian regime. 
Recognizing the central role of the wiss protecting power, 
they suggested the USG enlist the help of other allies as 
well, in the form of regular demarches in Tehran and 
convocations of Iranian leaders in capitals around the world. 
Paoli explicitly stated that France would be willing to 
weigh in, if asked. Richier explained that the French 
approached Syria almost immediately after they learned French 
citizien Clotilde Reiss had been arrested on July 1. He then 
previewed the presidential communiqu about the release of 
the French Embassy employee, Nazak Afshar, in which the 
French explicitly thanked the Syrians for their help. "Of 
course we don't know if the Syrians did anything," Richier 
admitted, "but we wanted to thank them anyway. It should at 
least confuse the Iranians." He said the French did not/not 
reach out to Russia and China for assistance, but he and 
Paoli both argued that the support of EU and other countries 
had a major impact on Iranian leaders. The French have 
coordinated closely with the British, Richier said, though 
primarily on the ground in Tehran. He suggested the USG 
consider approaching other countries, including relatively 
disinterested allies such as Brazil, and ask them to lean on 
the Iranians. He also mentioned the potential impact of 
blogs written by Iranian ex-patriates in the U.S. 

GOOD LUCK FIGURING OUT WHO IS IN CHARGE IN TEHRAN 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 

8. (S) Richier predicted it will be difficult to determine 
which Iranian institution currently has control of the U.S. 
hostages and, more importantly, which one has the authority 
to decide their fate. The French still have not identified a 
key broker within the Iranian government with the power to 
resolve their own hostage cases. They learned that the 
deliberative procedures of Iranian institutions remain 
unusually opaque. 

BE PREPARED FOR POLITICAL BLACKMAIL 
----------------------------------- 

9. (S) Richier said the Iranians have in the past tried to 
"blackmail" them, trading release of a French national for an 
Iranian national. He warned of possible Iranian efforts to 
blackmail the USG. The Iranians may try, for instance, to 
drag out the cases of the American and French hostages 
through the US/EU late September deadline for a response from 
the regime on the nuclear issue. Richier said the French 
believe this familiar Iranian tactic -- hostage-taking as 
political blackmail -- will only increase in the near future. 


10. (S) The Iranians may also seek specific exchanges, such 
as the release from French custody of Majid Kakavand. 
Without going into details, Richier said Kakavand had been 
apprehended by the French and was under a U.S. extradition 
request. He noted that GOF officials had briefed President 
Sarkozy on this case and that the French are prepared to 
continue holding him. (Background from Embassy Justice 
Attache: Kakavand is an Iranian national whom the French 
arrested March 20 at Charles de Gaulle airport on behalf of 
the Department of Justice for extradition to the U.S. on 
export control (proliferation) charges.) Then again, Richier 
noted, it is possible that the Iranian agency or agencies 
holding American citizens may not be aware of Kakavand, or 
may have no interest in his release; it is simply impossible 
to predict how their bureaucracies will behave. 

11. (S) Paoli said the French knew the Iranians intended to 
use the arrest of Clotilde Reiss and Nazak Afshar as a means 
to punish the French for their criticism of Iran's recent 
election results. More importantly, the Iranians hoped to 
muzzle future French criticism: "They want to paralyze us," 
Paoli said, explaining that the Iranians had failed in this 
attempt. Of course, he added, the regime also wanted to use 
French and British hostages to validate their allegation that 
foreign agents organized the mass post-election protests. 
Paoli and Richier both reported that the Iranians continue to 
harass and intimidate the local employees of their Embassy in 
Tehran. They described the burden on resources required to 
respond to each arrest: "The time we have had to devote to 
this is absolutely ridiculous," Richier said. 

ADAPT YOUR APPROACH FOR EACH HOSTAGE 
------------------------------------ 

12. (S) Before offering accounts of the French experience 
with hostages in Iran, Richier and Paoli were both at pains 
to avoid offering any absolute advice. They noted 
significant differences in the cases of Stephane Lherbier, 
Reiss, Afshar, the Americans captured near the border with 
Kurdistan, and other U.S.-Iranian dual nationals currently in 
custody. Paoli said the French made a concerted, and 
successful, effort to keep the case of Stephane Lherbier 
"apolitical." (NOTE: Lherbier, a French fisherman arrested 
by the Iranians in 2006, spent almost a year in prison prior 
to his release in 2007. END NOTE.) Since the Iranians have 
already accused the French and British hostages of espionage, 
Paoli and Richier suggested the USG make strenuous efforts to 
distance those cases from the situation of the U.S. hikers 
currently in captivity. Moreover, in 2007, Iranian leaders 
did not perceive the French as negatively as they do now, 
which they said has further complicated the recent hostage 
cases. Richier and Paoli both warned that the USG must make 
every effort to dissuade the Iranians from politicizing the 
case of the American hikers; thus far, they noted, Iranian 
officials have not formally linked them to the case against 
opposition members and the British and French hostages. 
Richier reported that the French found the Iranian "system" 
to be "perverse and complex but stable" in 2006, when seeking 
the release of Lherbier. "Now it is still perverse and 
complex," Richier said, "but unstable, and this makes 
everything more difficult." 

BRACE FOR UNCERTAINTY 
--------------------- 

13. (S) Paoli stressed in particular the uncertain and 
unpredictable nature of French dealings with Iran in hostage 
situations. There are no procedural certainties, and the 
timing of various steps appears arbitrary. Progress toward a 
trial could take months, depending on variables such as the 
political environment and the whims of key actors inside 
Iranian institutions. "Anything is possible and we know next 
to nothing," Paoli said, citing the recent arrest and quick 
release of a French citizen who told Iranian provincial 
police he was a researcher following the paths of the 
dinosaurs. In the face of this uncertainty, Paoli and 
Richier said that constant pressure from foreign leaders and 
the media appears to be the only means to accelerate 
decision-making in Iran. 

14. (S) Paoli and Richier described their continuing 
uncertainty about the case of Clotilde Reiss. They both 
stopped short of confirming that she would soon be 
transferred from Evin prison to the French Embassy in Tehran, 
although they expressed strong optimism. Richier added that 
this step will require the GOF to pay the Iranians a large 
sum, to ensure that Reiss stays in the country pending 
further legal action against her (reftel). Richier would not 
say whether the French will permit the Iranians to take Reiss 
back to court, or to prison: "We're focused on our short-term 
objective right now -- getting her out of jail." He said 
that the French worry the Iranians could decide to arrest in 
the near future another one of the approximately 1,800 French 
citizens living in Iran. 

EU HAS NO PLANS TO RECALL AMBASSADORS 
------------------------------------- 

15. (S) Paoli noted that the EU relations with Iran are 
extremely tense at the moment. He said the Iranians 
currently refuse to receive the Swedish Ambassador, even in 
his capacity as representative of the EU Presidency. 
Nonetheless, barring extreme actions by the Iranians, such as 
expulsion of one of the EU Ambassadors, Paoli predicted that 
the EU will not/not decide to withdraw its Ambassadors from 
Tehran. (NOTE: Deputy MFA Middle East Director (PDAS 
equivalent) Jean-Franois Paucelle provided background on 
this issue in an earlier meeting. He served as French Charge 
d'Affairs in Tehran in 1997, after the EU withdrew its 
Ambassadors to protest the assassination in Berlin, by 
Iranian government agents, of four members of the Iranian 
opposition-in-exile. European Embassies, after their 
Ambassadors had departed, soon learned that Iranian officials 
refused to receive European Charges d'Affaires, and so all 
communication between EU members and Iran slowed down or 
halted altogether. The Europeans also realized that the 
politics of returning Ambassadors to Iran can become complex. 
Following the withdrawal of their Ambassadors at present, 
Paucelle said, the Europeans would need to determine ahead of 
time when and under what conditions they would return. 
Possible criteria range widely, from returning the 
Ambassadors after the regime changes, as a long-term 
deadline, to after the release of Clotilde Reiss, as the 
shortest possible window. In addition, after the EU decided 
to return its Ambassadors in 1997, the Iranians refused to 
allow some of them to return, in an attempt to sow division 
among EU members. This chastening experience, Paucelle said, 
continues to inform EU discussions about whether or not to 
recall their Ambassadors from Iran. END NOTE.) 

16. (SBU) Post will continue to liaise with the GOF on 
hostage issues and update Washington offices as events unfold. 
PEKALA