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Updated: July 14, 2010 11:53 IST

Missing Iranian nuclear scientist reappears in Washington

Narayan Lakshman
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An image grab taken from Iran's Press TV shows Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri in two different video clips.
An image grab taken from Iran's Press TV shows Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri in two different video clips.

Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist who vanished from the face of the earth while visiting Saudi Arabia in June 2009, has reappeared in the Iran Interests section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington.

His resurfacing in Washington is the latest twist in a Machiavellian saga at the heart of one of the most complex and potentially explosive areas of international politics — the Iran-United States nuclear controversy.

Shortly after Mr. Amiri (32) went missing while on a pilgrimage, reports emerged that he had defected to the U.S.. However, Tehran at the time alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had kidnapped him. In March 2010, media reports here said that Mr. Amiri had provided the U.S. with intelligence on Iran’s purported nuclear programme.

Mr. Amiri used to work at Iran’s Malek Ashtar University of Defence Technology, which was listed for sanctions by the European Union in 2008 and said to be connected to the politically influential Revolutionary Guards.

Confirmation of his presence in the Iranian section reportedly came on Monday night from a Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman, Abdul Basit, who was quoted as saying that Mustafa Rahmani, head of the Iranian interests section, “is making arrangements for [Amiri’s] repatriation back to Iran”. Mr. Basit also noted that neither the Iranian nor American government had approached Pakistani authorities about Mr. Amiri's demands.

The BBC also reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had confirmed reports of Mr. Amiri having asked to be repatriated to Iran. “We hope that, without any obstacle, he can return to his country, that they [the U.S.], do not create any obstacle for his return to his homeland,” the report quoted Mr. Mottaki as saying.

Videos on YouTube

The latest twist to the denouement follows closely the appearance of three videos on the YouTube website, of an individual said to be Mr. Amiri. The first two videos, which appeared on June 8, presented contradictory explanations for Mr. Amiri’s disappearance.

According to a New York Times report, the first video showed a man identified as Mr. Amiri, who said in Persian that he was captured, taken to a house in Saudi Arabia and given an injection, after which he awoke on a plane bound for the U.S..

The second video, again thought to be of Mr. Amiri, showed a “young man in a suit… insisting that he was free and safe in the U.S., working on a Ph.D.” and located in Arizona. In that video he also reportedly said that he had no interest in politics or experience in nuclear weapons programs.

In the third video, which was broadcast by Iranian State Television on June 29, a man was observed as saying, “I, Shahram Amiri, am a national of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a few minutes ago I succeeded in escaping U.S. security agents in Virginia,” according to the BBC.

The BBC further noted that the man in the video said, “Presently, I am producing this video in a safe place. I could be rearrested at any time.” In this, he also reportedly debunked the claims made in the second video, calling it a “complete fabrication” and saying, “I am not free here and I am not permitted to contact my family. If something happens and I do not return home alive, the U.S .government will be responsible.”

The speaker in the video reportedly ended by urging Iranian officials and human rights organisations to “put pressure on the U.S. government for my release and return” further emphasising, “I was not prepared to betray my country under any kind of threats or bribery by the U.S. government.”

While U.S. officials could not be reached for comment on the latest developments, ABC News had earlier quoted CIA-linked individuals as saying, “The Iranian government has threatened to harm the family of a nuclear scientist who defected to the U.S. and helped provide crucial details about Iran’s burgeoning weapons program unless he returns home.”

The ABC also reported that the situation had become so grave that American officials feared that Mr. Amiri could re-defect, despite his operating as a CIA asset in Iran “for several years before his defection”.

Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation and formerly with the CIA, said to The Hindu, “The CIA is not in the business of kidnapping nuclear scientists. It just doesn’t happen. This is likely a fabrication by Amiri for Iran to save face.”

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