Behind the scenes of nuclear tensions between Iran and global powers hangs a mysterious tale of disappearances of prominent Iranians who may have been connected to Tehran’s atomic programme.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki earlier this week accused the United States of involvement in the disappearance of Shahram Amiri from Saudi Arabia, where he had gone on a pilgrimage four months ago.

Iran’s state-run Press TV reported that Mr. Amiri worked as a researcher at Tehran’s Malek Ashtar University, which the U.N. has cited in the past as a nuclear research facility. Mr. Amiri’s wife has been quoted as saying that her husband was not involved in Iran’s mainstream nuclear programme; instead, in a project related to nuclear medicine. She said that Mr. Amiri had last spoken to her from the Saudi Arabian holy city of Medina on June 3.

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Mr. Mottaki as saying that Tehran had “obtained documents about U.S. involvement over Mr. Amiri’s disappearance.”

“We hold Saudi Arabia responsible for Shahram Amiri’s situation and consider the U.S. to be involved in his arrest,” he observed. “We regard Saudi government as responsible for [Mr.] Amiri’s condition and according to some documents available for us, we consider that the U.S. is responsible for his detention.” There is speculation in the Western media that Mr. Amiri may have defected, but no conclusive evidence to confirm this perception has emerged so far.

A U.S. State Department official has rejected Iran’s allegation that Washington was involved in Mr. Amiri’s disappearance. “U.S. is simply not involved and we hope that the Iranians will refrain from making allegations like this that have no bases in fact,” he said.

Analysts point out that question marks have been raised in the past about possible involvement of western and allied intelligence agencies in the disappearances or deaths of prominent Iranians holding sensitive official posts. Ali Reza Asghari, A former General in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), had disappeared in Istanbul in December 2007. The Iranians claimed he was kidnapped, a view contradicted by western sources who said he had defected. The Iranians also claim that their diplomat, Nasrollah Tajik, has been arrested in Britain.

In January 2007, Iranian state-run media reported the mysterious death of Ardeshir Hassanpour, a prominent scientist at Iran’s uranium research centre in Isfahan. He had apparently been “suffocated by fumes from a faulty gas fire while he slept”. Mr. Mottaki has reportedly handed over to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a list of several Iranians who have, in recent years, vanished under suspicious circumstances.

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