Iran's mullahs directed their surrogates in Lebanon to kidnap westerners in order to blackmail their governments and extract concessions. Political leaders came under tremendous public pressure to gain the release of the hostages.
In 1986, when Jacques Chirac was appointed Prime Minister of France, he announced as his first urgent task the release of seven French hostages that had been held captive for more than a year in Lebanon.2 French officials believed the Iranian mullahs exercised a "decisive influence over the groups holding the hostages."3
As the first step to obtaining assistance from the mullahs, Chirac called for the normalization of relations with Iran. A high-level delegation from Tehran subsequently traveled to Paris to confer with French officials. At a meeting, the Iranians stipulated three conditions for improving relations and gaining their support to free the hostages.
One, the French government had to repay $1.3 billion that the Shah had spent for the construction of a nuclear reprocessing plant, yet to be completed; two, pledge not to sign new military equipment contracts with Iraq and; three, extradite Iranian dissidents - i.e. the People's Mojahedin - living in France.
The blackmail ploy had earlier been attempted without success. In 1984, America had demanded Iran extradite four hijackers who commandeered a jetliner to Tehran. Iran's Prime Minister Hussein Musavi said the hijackers would be turned over to the U.S. after it handed to them "the terrorists - People's Mojahedin - who have martyred hundreds inside Iran and who are now continuing their activities with the support of the Americans and French."4
Chirac was determined to make a deal with Iran. The French government signaled its new position toward the NCRI and People's Mojahedin when it withdrew police protection for their headquarters outside of Paris. Weeks later a bomb exploded near Mr. Rajavi's residence.
On May 23, 1986, the NCRI voted to relocate its headquarters to an region along the Iran-Iraq border and then reorganize its military forces. Weeks later, Massoud Rajavi and about 1,000 People's Mojahedin were welcomed in Baghdad by high-ranking officials.
In July, two French hostages were released and the following November France transferred $330 million to Iran as a partial repayment for the reprocessing plant.5 France may also have sold arms to Iran.6
1) Most of the hostages were kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad, a special security group within Hezbollah, controlled by Iran, according to Robert Baer, a former CIA officer.
2) "Terrorism, Hostage Problems Urgent for Chirac's New Government." Associated Press. March 21, 1986.
3) "France Set to Press Iran on Hostages in Lebanon." New York Times. April 20, 1986.
4) "Iran Indicates It Won't hand Over Hijackers." Associated Press. December 12, 1984.
5) "France Expelling Iranian Opponents of Khomeini." New York Times. December 8, 1987.
6) "Behind French-Iranian Feud: An Iraqi Bond." New York Times. July 22, 1987.