Reiss was arrested in the summer of 2009 on suspicion of collecting information and encouraging anti-regime protestors following the controversial Iranian elections. She was released from Iranian prison on August 16, 2009, and transferred to the French Embassy in Tehran. An Iranian court sentenced her to 10 years in prison, which were converted to a fine. She returned to her homeland in May 2010.
American Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin wrote on August 25, 2009, that "since August 11, when a French Presidency press release first singled out Syria for appreciation, French government officials, journalists, and academics have pondered the 'important' and 'influential' role Syria played as 'mediator' between France and Iran in the conflict surrounding the July 1 arrest by Iranian security officers of French citizen Clotilde Reiss."
According to the ambassador, "The French have deliberately publicized Assad's role in order to encourage Assad to play a more constructive intermediary role in the region, and to sew seeds of discord between Syria and Iran."
He added that Time Magazine fell for the French spin as well, reporting of Damascus' positive involvement in the affair.
'Vague notion in Paris'
But "despite their laudatory pronouncements, French officials claim to have only a vague notion of what the Syrians actually did." According to Rivkin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's strategic affairs advisor admitted that when the French released their statement, thanking the Syrians, they did not know what message the Syrians might have sent to Iran, nor by what channels."
A source at the French Foreign Ministry confirmed to the Americans that President Sarkozy called his Syrian counterpart on August 5 to ask for his assistance in persuading the Iranians to release Reiss from prison.
"Assad agreed to raise the matter with the Iranians, and shortly thereafter he told Sarkozy that he had placed a call to Tehran. Assad did not, however, name his interlocutor or interlocutors. 'I'm doing what I can to help' was the message he sent to Paris."
The embassy's two sources in the French government – Sarkozy's advisor and a Foreign Ministry official – suggested that Paris "sought to exaggerate the Syrian role deliberately, in order to demonstrate to Syria the praise they might win for playing a constructive role in the region, and in order to create tension between Syria and Iran. And the French believe they have succeeded on both fronts."
The document stressed that other countries, like Qatar and Turkey, were also involved in the efforts to secure Reiss' release and that it was unclear whether the Iranians would have freed her without such interventions.
The French also told the Americans that their success in painting Reiss as simply a young student/teacher with a keen interest in and love of Iran proved a key to their success. It should be noted that after her release, a French source said Reiss was in fact a spy, as claimed by Iran.
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