A series of bungled French government policy moves in the Middle East has succeeded in angering both Iran and Iraq and inadvertently resulting in reports of the execution of a French hostage in Lebanon.
The extent of the government's difficult position was evident today with officials obliged to take seriously the now 24-hour-old announcement in Beirut that Michel Seurat, a research scholar, had been executed by Islamic Jihad, the extremist fundamentalist group.
Seurat's corpse has not been found and contradictory claims that he was alive or dead were made today in Beirut by a Shiite Moslem cleric close to his presumed kidnapers and in Paris by an Iranian emissary who visited the Foreign Ministry.
The government's discomfort was underlined by Foreign Minister Roland Dumas who simply warned, "France's foreign policy cannot be taken hostage."
Islamic Jihad said yesterday that Seurat was executed in part because of the French expulsion Feb. 19 to Baghdad of Iraqi students Hamza Hadi Fawzi and Hassan Khair Eddin, known for sympathies for the Shiite Moslem opposition to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The London based human rights group Amnesty International has said that it has information that one of the students was executed soon after arrival in Baghdad, although both the Iraqi and French governments have denied it.
The two expelled students had been picked up along with more than 60 Arab and other Third World residents following a series of still unsolved terrorist bombings here early last month.
Why they were sent to Iraq, where the regime is known for its severity in dealing with political dissidents, remains a mystery, especially for President Francois Mitterrand's Socialist government, which prides itself on its human rights record.
Dumas today again defended the expulsion, repeating official claims that the two men protested only when they were actually put aboard a nonstop Iraqi aircraft bound for Baghdad.
Of further discomfort for the government were press reports that a major French engineering firm called Luchaire had shipped more than 100,000 155-mm artillery rounds to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, despite an arms embargo against the Tehran regime.
Although the Defense Ministry today brought formal suit against the company for misusing government arms export authorizations for Brazil, Pakistan and Thailand, Iran was not mentioned. Iraq was not alone in suspecting the French government of tolerating the traffic in hopes of improving its ties with Tehran.
The government here has made no secret of its desire to repair its previously strained relations both with Iran and with Tehran's major Arab ally, Syria, whose attitude is largely determined by extreme hostility toward Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
The government's immediate goal was to enlist Tehran's support in securing the release of Seurat and three other Frenchmen held hostage for the better part of a year, apparently by the pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement, which is linked to Islamic Jihad.
But trying to keep on good terms simultaneously with Iran, Iraq and Syria has proved particularly hazardous.
France long has been Baghdad's major western arms supplier, and Iraqi Ambassador to France Mohammed Maschat, flanked by seven Arab colleagues, publicly warned Tuesday of the "grave deterioration" in relations over the alleged double-dealing in arms.
Nor was Iran pleased with the expulsion of the two Iraqi students.
In Tehran, a spokesman for Dawa, the Iranian-controlled Iraqi Shiite opposition to Saddam Hussein, told the French news service Agence France-Presse that his organization had told the French charge d'affaires in the Iranian capital to ensure that the two expelled students left Iraq "rapidly and in good health."
That statement, which also threatened "French interests worldwide," seems to indicate that Dawa had good reason to believe that the students were still alive.
Dumas echoed that optimistic line, insisting that the "highest Iraqi authorities" had given him "assurances" that the two men were still "alive and well treated."
Despite the mounting evidence of mishandling and misunderstanding between the foreign and interior ministeries, Dumas maintained that "the police services were not at fault" in carrying out the expulsions.