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Iran, France to swap ambassadors after strained ties

Neither the Iranian nor the French foreign ministries have denied or confirmed reports [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 March, 2019

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Bahram Ghasemi, a former envoy to Spain and Italy and current spokesman of the foreign ministry, has been appointed as Iran's new ambassador to France.

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Iran and France are set to exchange ambassadors, officials said on Wednesday, after months of tensions including over an alleged Iranian plot to bomb an opposition rally near Paris. 

Bahram Ghasemi, a former envoy to Spain and Italy and current spokesman of the foreign ministry, has been appointed as Iran's new ambassador to France, an official source in Tehran told AFP.

In Paris, the Official Gazette on Wednesday said that Philippe Thiebaud, a former envoy to Pakistan who once represented France at the UN atomic watchdog, had been appointed as ambassador to the Islamic republic of Iran.

Ghasemi and Thiebaud will fill posts that had been vacant for more than six months after a series of diplomatic fallouts between France and Iran broke out last year.

The previous French ambassador left Iran at the end of his mandate in August while Tehran's envoy left Paris last summer before finishing his term. No official reason was given for his abrupt departure.

In June, France accused a branch of Iran's intelligence ministry of attempting to bomb a meeting of the People's Mujahedin, an Iranian opposition group, near Paris.

Tehran vehemently denied the accusations and in return slammed France for hosting the group which it calls a "terrorist cult of hypocrites".

Relations between France and Iran have also been strained over demands by Paris that Iran limits its ballistic missiles programme - which Tehran says is purely defensive.

Iran reined in most of its nuclear programme under a landmark 2015 deal with major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - that lifted sanctions on the Iran.

In May the United States withdrew from the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

France and the other European partners to the deal, have been trying to salvage the nuclear accord and set up a payment mechanism to maintain trade and business ties with Iran that would circumvent the US sanctions.

But Tehran has accused them of dragging their feet, it has also criticised France for selling advanced warplanes and other weapons to its regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

News that Iran and France will exchange ambassadors came a day after the ultraconservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan called for the expulsion of French diplomats from the country.

Kayhan claimed that Paris had expelled an Iranian diplomat last autumn. Neither the Iranian nor the French foreign ministries have denied or confirmed the expulsion.

Kayhan, Iran's second-oldest daily in circulation, is state owned and its managing director and editor in chief Hossein Shariatmadari was personally appointed by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 1993.

Its demand came a day after Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats in retaliation for the Netherlands' expulsion of two Iranian embassy staff in June 2018.

According to the Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok, the Iranian diplomats had been expelled "due to strong indications from (Dutch intelligence) that Iran has been involved in the liquidations on Dutch territory of two Dutch people of Iranian origin."

Kayhan has consistently been opposed to the policy of detente with Western powers pursued by moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

It has ceaselessly attacked the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and cited US President Donald Trump's decision to quit the accord as an example of the futility of dealing with Western powers.

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