US Welcomes Iran’s Release of French Hostage; Calls on Tehran to End All Terrorism

We "celebrate" Arnaud's release, the US said, but "they should stop their support for terrorism" and all their "destabilizing actions."
This undated handout photograph released on January 26, 2023 by his family shows Louis Arnaud, 35, who was arrested on September 28 as he was visiting Iran. (Photo: AFP/ Designed by Kurdistan24)
This undated handout photograph released on January 26, 2023 by his family shows Louis Arnaud, 35, who was arrested on September 28 as he was visiting Iran. (Photo: AFP/ Designed by Kurdistan24)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – The United States welcomed Iran’s release on Thursday of a French hostage whom Tehran had held for nearly two years in its notorious Evin Prison.

Louis Arnaud, a 36-year old banking consultant, was arrested by Iranian authorities in Sept. 2022, charged with participating in the protests that followed the death of the young Kurdish woman , Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, while she was in the custody of Tehran’s so-called “morality police.” 

She had been detained, supposedly, for not properly wearing her headscarf. The demonstrations that followed her death were the largest in four years in Iran and were clearly a concern for authorities.

Read More: More than 400 demonstrators killed in Iran’s protests: HRANA

In announcing Arnaud’s release, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “I thank our Omani friends and all those who worked for this happy ending.”

Macron did not reveal what Oman had done. It has previously acted as an intermediary between Iran and Western countries, including in the 2023 release of five American hostages (described below.)

Arnaud’s return home leaves three other French nationals in Iranian custody, along with a dozen other Europeans.

There are no longer Americans detained in Iran for political reasons, because the U.S. paid a handsome sum for their release last year.

The Biden administration worked out a complex and controversial deal, while it resolutely ignored the criticism of their understanding with Iran, which was mediated by Oman.

In the deal, Iran would release the five Americans It had wrongfully detained and the U.S. would release five Iranians who had been criminally convicted in U.S. courts.

However, the key to the deal’s success was cash: the release of $6 billion in Iranian funds which had been held frozen in South Korea.

Read More: U.S. and Iran to Swap Prisoners; Iran to Receive $6 billion in Frozen Funds

The Biden administration fixedly maintained that the money could not be used for malicious purposes, as it would be deposited in Qatar, and Qatar would ensure that the money was used for humanitarian purposes.

However, as their Republican opponents protested, money is fungible. The deal freed up money that Tehran would otherwise have had to use to buy necessities like food and medicine. And that money could be used for other, less benign purposes. 

The Biden administration, however, refused to acknowledge the clear legitimacy of that point.

It is unclear why Iran released Arnaud now. One is tempted to think that, perhaps, France did what the U.S. had earlier done, and the release of funds was involved.

But no evidence of that has yet emerged, and Tehran may have had other reasons, including improving its relations with some Western powers, as it confronts the U.S. over the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza. 

U.S. Response

Asked about Arnaud’s release on Thursday, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller responded, “We, of course, celebrate” it.  

“Unfortunately,” he then added, “the Iranian regime continues to unjustly detain additional French citizens and many other countries’ citizens to use them as political leverage.”

“There’s no justification for this.” Miller continued. “They should all be released immediately.” 

He also called on the Iranians “to stop their support for terrorism” and for “all of the destabilizing actions they take across the board.” 

In addition, Miller used the journalist’s question to remind Americans they should not visit Iran. There is great danger in doing so.

“We have a Travel Advisory making clear that American citizens should not travel to Iran for any reason, ever, because, among other reasons, they risk being unlawfully, unjustly detained,” Miller said.

In fact, Arnaud had been stunningly naive. In July 2022, he set about on a trip around the world. As the French newspaper, Le Monde, reported after his release, his mother had earlier told them, Iran was “a country he had long dreamt of visiting for the richness of its history and its welcoming people.”

He failed, however, to take into account the nature of its regime.

The U.S. has a similar warning regarding Iraq. On Tuesday, the embassy in Baghdad reminded Americans, “The State Department’s Travel Advisory for Iraq remains at Level 4.” 

“Do Not Travel due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and Mission Iraq’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens,” the embassy stated.

The renewed warning was prompted by the recent attacks carried out by pro-Iranian militias against U.S. franchises in Iraq. 

However, if the State Department could be a bit more relaxed about its commitment to the unity of Iraq, it would acknowledge that such a warning does not apply to the Kurdistan Region. 

There have been no attacks on U.S. companies there, and the Kurdistan Region is safe for Americans to visit.