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Iran lashes out at France as efforts to release French prisoners stall

Tehran is blaming Paris' unhelpful attitude and 'interventionism' as efforts to release six French people detained in the country drag on.

PARIS — The Iranian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson Nasser Kanaani slammed France on Monday for what he called its "non-constructive" attitude toward Iran and its "interventionism," arguing that they are hindering negotiations for the release of French nationals imprisoned in the country.

Responding to a question by the press, Kanaani said, "The French government has adopted a non-constructive attitude and shown interventionism in the recent situation of the Islamic Republic. Naturally, the continuation of such actions will not help to settle the issue of prisoners.”

On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed Tehran and Washington "reached" an agreement for the release of American prisoners, a statement Washington qualified as a "cruel lie."

Six French people are known to be detained in Iran. They include teacher and activist Cecile Kohler, her partner Jacques Paris, French-Dutch tourism agent Bernard Phelan and tourists Louis Arnaud and Benjamin Bariere. The name of the sixth French person imprisoned in Tehran has not been published. French-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, arrested in 2019, was released on Feb. 10.

Phelan and Bariere both reportedly need medical care. Phelan's health situation has apparently deteriorated considerably in recent days without the treatment he requires, and his family fears for his life. The French Foreign Ministry said last Thursday it had communicated about this issue several times with the Iranians, insisting that under the Vienna Convention, Iran is responsible for the health of the people it detains.

The Iranian statement came just three days after 10 European countries announced their intention to dismantle the INSTEX mechanism. INSTEX was set up in 2019 by France, Germany and the United Kingdom to facilitate trade between Europe and Iran, particularly in humanitarian goods. It was established as a Paris-based company, governed by French law. As of July 2021, it is owned and managed by 10 stakeholders: France, Germany, UK, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland Spain and Sweden.

Despite strong demands by European exporters, mainly in the humanitarian sector, to use the INSTEX mechanism, Iran has systematically prevented INSTEX from fulfilling its mandate, and it was allowed to operate only once in 2020. The March 9 statement read, "The Iranian leadership has chosen to act against the interests of its people by refusing to cooperate on the export of medicine and other life-saving goods."

France has been one of the most vocal international voices against Iran's crackdown on demonstrators in the country as well as executions. Iranian opposition groups and French human rights organizations have demonstrated repeatedly in Paris since the killing of Masha Amini in Tehran in September 2022, calling on the French government to close the Iranian Embassy in the city and sever ties with the Tehran regime. French officials have expressed their support of peaceful Iranian demonstrators on numerous occasions.

Kanaani tweeted a video on Sunday showing French police apparently roughing up local demonstrators. He wrote, "Practical lesson by French police in respecting human rights and protesters’ rights; An example of respecting human rights in 'European Garden'!; Claimants rights lessons for others, themselves strangers to them."

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