PARIS, JULY 17 -- France and Iran angrily cut off diplomatic relations today in a tense confrontation over an Iranian official suspected of links to terrorist bombings in Paris.
The break, which came during a three-week-old crisis, marked a defeat for Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's efforts to normalize contacts with the Islamic leadership in Tehran as a way to help hostages in Lebanon.
The rupture immediately raised concern here over five French hostages held in Lebanon by Islamic extremists with ties to Iran and over French officials assigned to the French Embassy in Tehran, particularly a consul accused of espionage.
Two western news agencies reported their Beirut bureaus received anonymous telephone calls declaring that the break in relations means two French hostages will be executed by Islamic Jihad, the fundamentalist group that has been holding them captive. There was no way to judge the calls' authenticity. Hezbollah, another Iranian-linked militia in Lebanon, warned yesterday that France's quarrel with Iran "will bring it great damage in the Islamic world."
The Foreign Ministry reported that Iranian police this morning resumed a blockade of the French Embassy in Tehran and have been "arbitrarily" preventing French officials from leaving Iran for several days. Only the charge d'affaires, Pierre Lafrance, was allowed to leave the embassy to go to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, French officials said.
The French consul, Jean-Paul Torri, was summoned by an Iranian court earlier this week for questioning on accusations of espionage and drug trafficking. French officials dismissed this as a fraudulent attempt to create a parallel to the Iranian official wanted for questioning here. In any case, they added, Torri enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Since then, Torri has remained inside the embassy compound. But Tehran television, quoting a Foreign Ministry spokesman, emphasized tonight that Torri must appear before a revolutionary court despite his claim to immunity, apparently making him a bargaining chip to be exchanged for the Iranian official wanted in Paris.
Although today's break provoked anger, it left unchanged the standoff over the Iranian official suspected here of links to terrorism. The official, Wahid Gordji, claims diplomatic immunity and has remained inside the Iranian Embassy here for nearly three weeks.
With only an official passport, Gordji has no diplomatic immunity from French law, French officials said. But the Iranian Embassy remains immune, even with relations broken, and he can remain holed up inside.
According to diplomatic practice, another country is likely to assume responsibility for the embassy, running it as an Iranian interests section.
Gordji has been summoned for questioning by a French judge investigating a wave of bombings in Paris last fall that killed a dozen persons and wounded more than 150. Although Gordji is listed at the embassy as a translator, French officials have said they suspect he has ties to Iranian intelligence agents and was in contact with terrorists who helped plant the bombs.
Setting the government's firm tone, President Francois Mitterrand said openly on Tuesday that Gordji is suspected of links to the bombings and will be forced to report to the investigating judge at the Palace of Justice.
French police, who have surrounded the embassy since June 30 to prevent Gordji's escape, reinforced their blockade overnight. Dozens of security police armed with submachine guns and wearing bulletproof vests established a 50-yard perimeter controlling all access to the building.
The rupture in relations followed more than two weeks of escalating steps and countersteps since Gordji refused to answer the judge's summons. Iranian gunboats attacked a French freighter in the Persian Gulf on Monday and an Iranian diplomat said he was roughed up by French customs police at the Geneva airport last weekend.
Iran announced yesterday it would break relations with France if the government had not lifted its police blockade around the Iranian Embassy by Sunday and apologized for the Geneva incident. Chirac, after conferring with Mitterrand this morning, had the Foreign Ministry issue the following statement in reply:
"The Iranian government has made known its intention to break diplomatic relations with France soon unless the French government fulfills obviously unacceptable conditions. In addition, French diplomats and personnel stationed in Tehran for several days have been arbitrarily prevented from leaving the country to return to France.
"France takes note of this situation and considers that since the process of breaking diplomatic relations has begun, the necessary consequences must be drawn. That is why it decides to break diplomatic relations with Iran as of now."
Several hours later, Iranian radio and television announced that Iran had broken relations with France because Iranian diplomats were poorly treated here, news agencies reported. The announcement in Paris was not mentioned.
The Foreign Ministry said Lafrance was in touch with Iranian officials in Tehran to organize the departure "appropriately" of Iranian diplomats from France and French diplomats from Iran within five days. The 1961 Vienna Convention, they pointed out, provides for departure of diplomats and their families "within brief delays" in case of diplomatic breaks or even warfare.
A number of Iranian officials and their families nevertheless were turned back at the German border as they sought to leave France by car overnight, police sources reported. The French government has decided to prevent their exit because a similar measure was imposed on the French officials who sought to leave Iran earlier this week, the Foreign Ministry said.
The French government's refusal appeared designed to make sure Iranian personnel leave France only in conjunction with a simultaneous departure of French personnel from Tehran.
The Foreign Ministry said more than 20 French officials are stationed at the Tehran embassy, including 11 with diplomatic status. In Paris, the Iranian Embassy staff numbers five diplomats, headed by a charge d'affaires, and about 40 other officials, the ministry said.