France Goes Against U.S. on Iran Less Than 24 Hours After Nuke Summit Ends

Only 24 hours after an Obama-led summit won solemn pledges from world leaders to crack down on proliferation of loose nuclear material and know-how, prosecutors in France signaled that they were backing away from supporting a U.S. attempt to extradite an Iranian businessman accused of acting as a clandestine purchasing agent for Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

In March 2009, Iranian citizen and resident Majid Kakavand was arrested by French authorities after the U.S. lodged a request for his extradition in connection with an investigation of alleged smuggling of U.S. technology to Iranian military entities. An indictment from April 7, 2009, issued by federal prosecutors in Northern California, charged Kakavand and two codefendants with running an international network that allegedly purchased thousands of military and commercial products from American companies. The feds say this equipment and material was then exported via Malaysia to destinations in Iran, which U.S. officials say included two Iranian military "entities" that the U.S. government believes are involved in Iran's nuclear- and ballistic-missile-development programs.

At a court hearing in France on Wednesday, however, a French prosecutor indicated that the French government has decided to oppose the U.S. extradition request for Kakavand. According to an Associated Press report, prosecutor Sophie Gulphe-Berbain disputed a U.S. claim, underlying the basis for the extradition request, that products which Kakavand sought to acquire for Iran had military applications. She reportedly said that French-government arms experts determined that the products in question—including resistors, inductors, sensors, capacitors, and connectors—were "not dual use" and that therefore Kakavand did not need special permission to export them to Iran.

The AP report said that after his arrest, Kakavand had been held in prison by French authorities until last August, when he was released on the condition that he remain in Paris. He denied to the court that he was a criminal or that he had done anything wrong. A spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington could not be immediately reached for comment.

According to reporting in the Iranian media, last week Kakavand was phoned by Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, and given what amounted to a pep talk on behalf of the Tehran government. "Fortunately, the falsehood of U.S. claims against you has been made clear to the French court and the judge, as was clear from the start, no offense has been proven attributed to you," Mottaki told Kakavand, according to the Tehran Times. "The Americans have planned and implemented a singular plot against Iranian citizens in certain countries, which has failed in most cases," the minister allegedly said, adding that he hoped French authorities would soon free Kakavand and allow him to return to Iran. Lawyers for Kakavand have claimed that U.S. authorities forged documents as part of their effort to persuade the French to turn Kakavand over to the U.S.

A U.S. official familiar with the case, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that Iranian authorities have been dropping hints to the French that if Kakavand is released, then Tehran might reciprocate by setting free Clotilde Reiss, a young French academic who was arrested by Iranian authorities last July shortly before she was due to end a six-month teaching stint in Iran. According to this report on the France24.com Web site, Reiss was arrested after she allegedly handed over to the French Embassy in Tehran pictures and other materials she had collected related to protests that followed the disputed reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last spring.

The official said that Obama administration officials were unhappy at the latest French moves in the Kakavand case, especially as they come so soon after the end of the nuclear-nonproliferation summit in Washington. French President Nicholas Sarkozy told a press conference during the summit that he wanted the United Nations to impose new sanctions on Iran by the end of next month in response to Tehran's increasingly aggressive efforts to move forward with nuclear-related research and development.

France Goes Against U.S. on Iran Less Than 24 Hours After Nuke Summit Ends | U.S.