Debate Over Freeing Pro-Iranian Terrorist Reopened
PARIS (AP) _ Former Premier Jacques Chirac has renewed debate over whether France promised to free a pro-Iranian prisoner who is serving a life sentence to win freedom for its hostages in Lebanon.
Answering questions from economics students in suburban Cergy-Pontoise, Chirac alluded to a possible pardon for Anis Naccache.
Naccache, who is Lebanese, is serving a life sentence for leading an unsuccessful attempt in 1980 to assassinate Shahpour Bakhtiar, a former Iranian prime minister living in exile in Paris.
Speaking about Naccache and four other men convicted in the case, Chirac said Tuesday night: ″One might be well-inspired to consider the occasion that could be found to free these people in the July 14 pardon, because we are in a period of tension and should not add to the reasons that might make us targets of terrorism.″ Chirac said he was speaking from ″intuition,″ not from information of a particular terrorist threat.
July 14 is Bastille Day, the holiday commemorating the French Revolution, and there is a government tradition of issuing pardons as part of the celebration.
French newspapers today gave the matter front-page play and sought to determine Chirac’s motives for making the comment.
Iranian leaders have called for Naccache’s release, and his case was widely reported to have been part of a deal Chirac’s government negotiated in 1988 that brought home all Frenchmen held hostage by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.
Chirac has denied that freedom for Naccache was part of the deal, which he said involved only a promise to normalize diplomatic relations with Iran.
President Francois Mitterrand, who defeated Chirac in the May 1988 presidential election less than a week after the French hostages were freed, said he would pardon Naccache only if there was proof that Chirac’s government had made such a promise.
The Socialist government had no comment on Chirac’s statement. Most political leaders reacted guardedly, although Jean-Marie Le Pen of the extreme-right National Front said the suggestion of a pardon was ″indecent.″
Naccache’s former lawyer, Antoine Comte was quoted today in the leftist daily Liberation as saying Chirac may have intended to lay the groundwork for a political consensus in favor of a pardon.
″If Jacques Chirac says today that a solution must be found, it’s no doubt because he wants to help the president get out of this affair with the agreement of all political forces,″ Comte was quoted as saying.
Naccache has claimed to be a spokesman for the Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God. It is widely believed that his attack on Bakhtiar was ordered by senior Iranian officials, possibly by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself.