Premier Jacques Chirac welcomed liberated hostage Aurel Cornea home to France on Thursday, thanking Syrian, Algerian, Lebanese and Palestinian authorities for helping to arrange the Christmas release.
Chirac's catalogue of gratitude conspicuously omitted the government of Iran, even though most analysts in Paris believe that France's attempts to placate and repair relations with Iran during 1986 largely accounted for the release of Cornea and four other hostages in the last six months.
At least four other French hostages, as well as five Americans and a number of other foreigners, are believed to remain in the hands of captors in Lebanon.
Reunion With Wife, Crew
Cornea, a television soundman who marked his 55th birthday recently, embraced his wife, Aurora, at Orly Airport south of Paris and then burst into tears hugging two other members of the television crew kidnaped with him in Beirut almost 10 months ago. The other two had been freed last June. A fourth member of the crew, Jean-Louis Normandin, is still a prisoner of a little known, pro-Iranian group that calls itself the Revolutionary Justice Organization.
"Jean-Louis is all right," Cornea told a crowd of journalists at the airport. "I think he will be released soon."
Cornea, who walked rather slowly, also said, "I feel very emotional and very tired."
Interviewed on national television later, Cornea, who was released by his captors Wednesday in what they called "a Christmas good-will gesture," said that he and Normandin had been imprisoned together and had been treated relatively well, with access to television, videocassettes and a varied library that included works of Voltaire and Victor Hugo.
"It is still like a dream," Cornea told the interviewer. "I am still not with you. The first thing I plan to do tomorrow is look at the sun."
Christmas Gift of Shave
Cornea, who showed up fully bearded at the Beau Rivage Hotel in Muslim West Beirut after his captors released him on Christmas Eve, arrived in Paris clean-shaven. He told the national television audience that a French gendarme at the French embassy in Beirut had shaved him at midnight as a Christmas gift.
Chirac, speaking with reporters at the airport, said that the continued captivity of hostages of all nationalities in Lebanon was intolerable and that he hoped "for the release of all of them in the swiftest time possible."
He denounced the taking of hostages as "a kind of barbarism which can only be condemned by all men of good will."
Mixed Press Reaction
A mixture of relief and frustration was evident in the French press in its analysis of the release of Cornea. Editorial writers of all political shades assumed that France had paid some kind of price for the hostage and that the price for the remaining hostages could go up.
The conservative and pro-government Le Figaro newspaper said "there is no reason to doubt that the price paid by France has been . . . any more than a legitimate and desirable normalization in relations with Iran. But now the stakes are rising."
Noting that the Chirac government has insisted that it was not bargaining for hostages, Liberation, a leftist, anti-government newspaper, said sarcastically that France was instead "conducting state-to-state conversations that are aimed at no less than fixing the price for each of our captive fellow citizens."
"Is there an alternative?" Liberation asked. "Probably not."
Ease Tensions With Iran
Since Chirac took over as prime minister last march, the French government--a heavy supplier of arms to Iraq in its war with Iran--has tried to smooth its relations with Iran, first by expelling an exiled Iranian opposition leader from France and then by negotiating at least partial repayment of a $1-billion loan made to France by the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran before he was deposed.
The return of Cornea was a bright moment in an otherwise gloomy Christmas season for France, paralyzed by a national rail strike that has stranded thousands of vacationers. A parallel strike on the Paris Metro subway and suburban lines ended Thursday, but the end came too late to help Parisian merchants, who suffered heavy losses when the subway strike prevented shoppers from reaching their stores on the last two days of the Christmas shopping season.