WikiLeaks: The Hikers and Iran's "Hostage-Taking as Political Blackmail"
In August 2009, weeks after three US citizens (including Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer) were snatched by Iranian forces while hiking in Kurdistan, near the Iranian border, the US sought advice from France on how to free them. At the time, the French government was working to secure the release of one of its own citizens, Clotilde Reiss, and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, French officials opened their playbook to State Department official Kathleen H. Allegrone. Summarizing her meetings with two French officials, President Nicolas Sarkozy's strategic affairs advisor Francois Richier and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Middle East director Patrice Paoli, she wrote:
The French approached their hostage situations in Iran by first seeking an immediate, behind-the-scenes resolution before the Iranians brought charges against their captives, and then, once that approach failed, by adopting a two-pronged strategy: (1) relentlessly publicizing the cases with repeated employment of key words chosen carefully to put the Iranians on the defensive, and (2) constant exertion of diplomatic and political pressure, with the help of allies, in the form of regular demarches in Tehran and convocations of Iranian Ambassadors in European and Middle Eastern capitals.
The French officials stressed the importance of enlisting allies that might have Iran's ear, and said they had quickly reached out to Syria after Reiss was detained. Similarly, Richier said the French had made sure to explicitly thank Syria when Iran freed Nazak Afshar, a French embassy employee held briefly by Iran. "Of course we don't know if the Syrians did anything," Richier said, "but we wanted to thank them anyway. It should at least confuse the Iranians."
The French officials told their American counterparts that the Iranians would likely advise the US government, through the Swiss, to "remain calm and quiet" while the Iranian legal process moved forward. The French officials advised the opposite. "Be vocal," Richier said, "even more so if the Iranians ask you not to be." Paoli warned: "They are the masters of stalling tactics."
Ignore this warning, they insisted, because silence will not expedite the process. They argued that USG statements and actions can sway and even mobilize public opinion within Iran. Whether or not we choose to speak out, they warned, the Iranians will energetically disseminate fabricated accusations.