France today denied that a lecturer set free by Iran this weekend was a spy, but the statement did little to end the speculation that Clotilde Reiss' release was part of deal with Iran that will allow two Iranians to go free.
In the weeks before Reiss release France refused to allow the U.S. extradition of Iranian engineer Majid Kakavand, wanted for the alleged illegal export of electronic parts for use by Iran's military. Kakavand returned safely to Iran.
Today, France's interior minister signed the expulsion order for Ali Vakili Rad, the Iranian man convicted of assassinating former Iranian prime minister Shahpour Bakhtiar in Paris in 1991. That document was requested by French judges before allowing his parole request. The judges are expected to approve his parole on Tuesday.
The timing of Reiss' release has raised the spectre of a secret deal between France and Iran over a prisoner exchange, which both countries have denied.
"Those who know, don't speak. And those who speak don't know," Dominique Moisi, senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations, told ABC News. "Of course, one can ask himself whether such secret deal took place when we see the final result."
The U.S. State Department didn't say whether it believed Reiss' freedom was tied to the release of the two Iranians from French prisons.
"We don't think that those things should be connected, and I think we take note of the fact that France has said they're not connected," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today.
Reiss, 24, was arrested for espionage in the central Iranian city of Isfahan last July after the Islamic Republic's disputed presidential elections.
The teaching assistant was accused of taking part in anti-government protests and sending photographs of the protests via email to her family and to the IFRI, a research institute linked to the French embassy in Tehran.
After six weeks in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, she was released on bail, but only on condition that she remained at the French embassy until her trial was over. On Saturday, a court sentenced Reiss to 10 years in jail. But the prison term was commuted into a $285,000 fine which was immediately paid by her Iranian lawyer.
After getting her passport back, Reiss flew to freedom to her home country aboard a French governmental jet. She met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace upon her arrival in France.
Today, the French Foreign Ministry "categorically" denied reports that Reiss worked for the French secret service.
Pierre Siramy, a former official at the DGSE foreign intelligence agency, however, said Reiss was a contact of the agency.
"She would provide information (to the French embassy in Tehran) of the general political situation in Iran because she had a lot of contacts with Iranians," Siramy told France 2 TV today. "But she was not a spy and she was not getting paid."
French officials are sensitive to the appearance of a deal and have spoken out to deny it.
"I would like to simply tell you that there was no compensation," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told French radio Radio J Sunday. "This series of judicial rulings -- in France we don't influence judges' decision -- has nothing to do with any haggling, any alleged bargaining."
Iranian authorities have also denied the existence of a secret deal with France.