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French confrontation with Iran: storm in a teacup?

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More likely a storm in a teacup than a major confrontation. That is the assessment of knowledgeable observers of the current tense stand-off between Iran and France.

It was triggered by the arrival in Paris of ousted Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr late last month after months of hiding from the Islamic revolutionary regime in Tehran.

When the Mitterrand government granted Bani-Sadr conditional political asylum , the fundamentalists began to demonstrate outside the French Embassy in Tehran chanting "death to France," the French ambassador was recalled by Paris (then asked to leave by Tehran), and French nationals advised to return home were blocked at the airport.

But despite the official Iranian wrath against France, observers in Tehran contacted by telephone point to the fact that the fundamentalist stormtroopers, or Hesbollahi ("party of God"), took a wait-and-see attitude.

And while the authorities publicly condemned France in the strongest possible terms, privately they appeared concerned to keep the situation under their control.

"There is no comparison with what happened to the US presence in Iran," one observer told the Monitor.

"The United States was a clear-cut victim, the godfather of a hated regime overthrown by the Iranian people," he added. "Even the Iranian authorities realize that France can hardly be put in the same category. Bani-Sadr is not hated to the extent that the Shah was."


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