New French envoy seeks release of citizens in talks with Iran's Raisi
PARIS (Reuters) - France's new envoy to Iran told President Ebrahim Raisi that Tehran had to immediately release seven French nationals detained in the country, the foreign ministry said after the envoy handed his credentials to the Iranian leader this week.
Nicolas Roche was pictured this week in local media meeting Raisi with the state news agency IRNA saying that the Iranian president had criticised France's Islamophobia and that Roche had been mandated to lift misunderstandings in relations.
Ties between France and Iran have deteriorated in recent months with Tehran detaining seven French nationals in what Paris has said are arbitrary arrests that are equivalent to state hostage taking.
Describing the policy as "reprehensible", Deputy foreign ministry spokesman Francois Delmas said that by continuing to hold its citizens, Iran's relations with France and Europe could only worsen.
He said the new ambassador had made it clear to Raisi that the French citizens should be released immediately and that the conditions they were being held in were unacceptable.
Paris is particularly concerned by the condition of a Franco-Irish citizen Bernard Phelan and Benjamin Briere, who last week began a hunger strike, according to a statement from the family.
Delmas said Paris was holding Tehran responsible for their health and demanded that Phelan be provided urgent medical care, which he was still being denied.
In recent years, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on charges related to espionage and security.
Rights groups have accused Iran of trying to extract concessions from other countries through such arrests. Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, denies taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Arun Koyyur)