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Scientist turns up in U.S., is ‘free to go’

This image taken from a video which appeared on Iranian television on June 7 shows a man Iranian broadcasters identified as Shahram Amiri.  (Associated Press)
This image taken from a video which appeared on Iranian television on June 7 shows a man Iranian broadcasters identified as Shahram Amiri. (Associated Press)

Iran, videos claimed CIA abducted nuclear expert

WASHINGTON – An Iranian nuclear scientist who’d been missing for more than a year amid Iranian claims that the CIA had abducted him turned up at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington on Tuesday and was preparing to return home, after providing what a U.S. official said was “useful information” about Iran’s nuclear program.

Shahram Amiri disappeared in June last year while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

His mysterious case became still odder Tuesday morning with the news that he was at the Iranian interests section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. Amiri had been “dropped off” there at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Abdul Basit, the spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, told McClatchy newspapers.

That same evening, a senior U.S. official, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, sent the word to Iran via Swiss diplomats that Amiri had been in the U.S. of his own free will and was free to go, the State Department said.

Because Iran and the U.S. don’t have diplomatic relations, Pakistan handles Iranian interests in the U.S., while Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran.

Iran has accused the U.S. government of abducting and mistreating Amiri, a charge that the scientist himself made in one of several contradictory homemade videos that were broadcast last month on state-run Iranian television.

Obama administration officials had denied kidnapping an Iranian scientist, but refused to comment on Amiri specifically until Tuesday.

“Mr. Amiri has been in the United States of his own free will and he is free to go,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters.

One U.S. official said that Amiri “had provided useful information” about Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. charges is a covert effort to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. official declined to elaborate and couldn’t be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Some reports have linked Amiri to last September’s revelation of a covert Iranian uranium facility near the holy city of Qom, but nuclear expert David Albright said the scientist is believed to have provided “weaponization information” – that is, information on Iran’s attempts to fashion highly enriched uranium, the fuel for a nuclear weapon, into an operational nuclear warhead.

Much about Amiri’s odyssey remains unconfirmed – including how he ended up in the U.S. and why he decided to return to his native Iran.

A second U.S. official suggested that Amiri had offered to provide the U.S. with information in return for asylum and had voluntarily left his family behind in Iran. After his family came under pressure from Iranian authorities, he apparently had second thoughts about the deal and made the videos in hopes of convincing Iranian authorities that he’d been abducted and taken to the U.S. against his will.