PARIS, JULY 18 -- While a dangerous international quarrel boils up around him, Wahid Gordji has been sitting in the Iranian Embassy here behind a wall of immunity, mystery and speculation.
To hear his colleagues tell it, the young Iranian official was a translator for diplomatic contacts in Paris. To some French officials, he was a cynical intelligence agent recruiting Islamic extremists for terrorism. To others, he was a reckless firebrand who ran out of control with Iranian policy in Europe.
Whichever version is true, the drama surrounding Gordji already has gone far beyond his own fate. It has shattered Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's policy of cultivating better relations with Tehran and propelled France and Iran into a tense standoff putting lives at risk in Beirut and Tehran. In addition, it has demonstrated anew that the zealous and erratic nature of the Islamic government in Iran can spell trouble for western leaders trying to make a deal with the revolution.
Gordji, believed to be 27 years old, has been summoned for questioning by French officials in connection with terrorist bombings in Paris last fall. He has become a subject of special fascination in France because he was widely known in Paris before the crisis. As an affable French speaker and francophile, he was a frequent guest at diplomatic receptions and a prized contact for French officials carrying out Chirac's policy of reconciliation with Tehran.
Born in Iran, Gordji came to France in the early 1970s. His father, a doctor, was an aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the period when Khomeini made his headquarters in the Paris suburb of Neauphle-le-Chateau before returning to Iran in triumph after the 1979 revolution.
Since then, Gordji had been seen in the street trying to break up demonstrations by anti-Khomeini Iranians in Paris. But he was most visible at the side of Deputy Prime Minister Ali Reza Moayeri when Chirac received Moayeri in May 1986 to inaugurate the attempts at normalization. And from then on, Gordji was known as an advocate of the negotiations designed to smooth over Franco-Iranian disputes.
That was until March, when the French internal security agency, known as DST, broke up what officials said was a terrorist support network that had played a role in last fall's Paris bombings that killed a dozen persons and wounded more than 150. The group, composed mainly of North African immigrants attracted by Iranian-style Islamic fundamentalism, was said to have provided lodging and assistance for a Lebanese terrorist who flew in to plant the bombs.
This picture of what happened, the result of interrogation leaked to the French press, seemed to erase the official version of the bombings that had prevailed until then. Last fall, French officials had distributed wanted posters for two Lebanese brothers, Maurice and Robert Abdallah, who officials said were suspected of involvement in the bombings as a way to liberate a third Abdallah brother, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, from the French prison where he has been held held on charges of terrorism.
Responsibility for the bombing campaign was asserted by a group calling itself the Committee for Solidarity with Arab and Middle East Political Prisoners. French officials said they suspected that was a cover for the Abdallah family and a terrorist group to which Georges Abdallah belonged.
Some sources suggested this contention resulted from faulty clues supplied by the French spy agency, known as DGSE, while the present theory put together by the DST, the internal security agency, has stemmed from more complete evidence gathered in the interrogation of those arrested in March. The explanation reflected a running rivalry between the two security agencies.
According to press accounts, part of the DST evidence drew a connection between Gordji and Mohammed Mohajir, the alleged leader of the dismantled support ring. A German-made car bought by Mohajir and believed to have been used in one of the bombings was seen in Gordji's garage, these reports said, and wiretaps had recorded conversations between the two men.
Apparently acting on this evidence, investigating magistrate Gilles Boulouque issued a summons for Gordji to be heard as a witness in his office. When police sought to serve the summons on the Iranian official at his apartment June 3, they found he had disappeared.
The Iranian charge d'affaires here, Gholam Reza Haddadi, staged an unusual news conference a month later, July 2, inside the Iranian Embassy. With Gordji dramatically reappearing at his side, Haddadi said the wanted official had taken refuge in the embassy on a tip from Didier Destremau, a French Foreign Ministry official.
The Foreign Ministry swiftly denied Haddadi's disclosure. But press reports, apparently emanating from frustrated DST officials, have insisted there is evidence the tipoff occurred as described. The same reports have said Destremau formerly worked for the DGSE, implying interagency rivalries or conflicting goals within the government.
The Foreign Ministry from the beginning sought to play down the Gordji standoff in hopes of salvaging the policy of normalization with Iran, French officials said.
After Gordji's press conference, Chirac ordered French police to surround the Iranian Embassy to prevent his escape, and the angry confrontation between Paris and Tehran finally led to a formal break in diplomatic relations yesterday.
The standoff apparently has ended a reconciliation process that Chirac started upon taking office in March 1986. The driving force behind his effort appeared to be a desire to obtain freedom for French hostages in Lebanon.
The first of Chirac's conciliatory gestures toward Iran was sending away Massoud Rajavi, whose Mujaheddin-e-Khalq group was seeking the overthrow of the Khomeini government from headquarters just outside Paris.
Two weeks later two French hostages were freed by their captors in Lebanon.
Chirac's government also paid back more than $300 million out of a large loan made under deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and complicated negotiations began on final liquidation of the $1 billion loan. As the negotiations went on, a third French hostage in Lebanon was released.
Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond expressed disappointment that five others remained captive, and the negotiations were held up through the spring. Although it was not clear at the time, the March arrests meant the talks were unlikely ever to resume. Gordji had been transformed from a collaborator in Chirac's policy to its executioner.