The Plot Thickens: Missing Iranian Nuclear Scientist Turns Up in D.C.

By Andrew Moseman | July 13, 2010 11:48 am

AmiriShahram Amiri is at the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C. Unless he’s not.

The missing Iranian nuclear scientist is no stranger to intrigue and indecision: Last month we covered dueling YouTube videos in which two men, both claiming to be Amiri, say that either he was being held against his will in the United States or was studying freely and happily here. Today his case took more strange turns, as government officials in Pakistan claimed that Amiri is currently at their embassy in Washington, awaiting a return trip to Iran.

Today Amiri was quoted by Iranian official media as claiming that the US government had intended to return him to Iran to cover up his kidnapping in Saudi Arabia. “Following the release of my interview in the internet which brought disgrace to the US government for this abduction, they wanted to send me back quietly to Iran by another country’s airline,” he told state radio from the Iranian interests office in Washington. “Doing so, they wanted to deny the main story and cover up this abduction. However, they finally failed” [The Guardian].

The U.S. State Department confirmed that Amiri is at the Pakistani embassy, but the government has maintained that he was in the United States on his own volition, and said today that he’s returning home of his own free will as well. According to an AP account, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley used the opportunity to take a political jab at Iran over the American hikers still held in Iran.

However, while both Pakistan and the U.S. agree at least that Amiri is in D.C., the Pakistani embassy in D.C. didn’t get the memo. Wired.com reports that workers there were denying today that Amiri is in the building.

That’s from an individual at the press office who didn’t identify herself and said she could not speak for the record. She added she couldn’t explain why a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry in Islamabad told reporters that the scientist is at the embassy’s Iranian interest section, about two miles away from the main facility in D.C.’s Glover Park neighborhood. But she also didn’t split hairs: “He’s not in the embassy at all” [Wired.com].

Because of the icy relationship between Iran and the United States, the two nations don’t have direct diplomatic ties. Pakistan handles Iranian interests in Washington, while Switzerland handles American diplomacy in Tehran.

Whichever nation is telling the truth (or the most reasonable estimation thereof), it’s not hard to see why the United States would be interested in Amiri, or why Iran would want to argue that he was a kidnapping victim rather than a defector. It is widely assumed that Amiri could provide information about Iran’s nuclear program.

Born in the Western Iranian city of Kermanshah in 1977, Amiri worked as a radio isotope researcher at Malek Ashtar Industrial University, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, an elite military branch, as well as for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. He was on a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in the spring of 2009 when he vanished [Los Angeles Times].

Related Content:
80beats: Dueling Videos: Is Iranian Nuclear Scientist a Defector or Kidnap Victim?
80beats: Iran Blocks Gmail; Will Offer Surveillance-Friendly National Email Instead
80beats: The Tweets Heard Round the World: Twitter Spreads Word of Iranian Protests
Discoblog: Update: Iran’s Numbers Even Fishier Than Previously Reported

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology
  • Chance

    “in the internet”??? You’d think a nuclear scientist would be better educated. Perhaps a sign that it was a politician crafting the statement and not a nuclear scientist?!?

  • rabidmob

    If he was a defector, I don’t see how he could actually go home.

    In fact even if he’s not a defector, having heard a few horror stories about the Iranian Legal / Judicial system I think he’d not do well returning home.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Andrew Moseman

    @Chance I wouldn’t be surprised if other people are crafting a lot of his statements, although in this case he was broadcast in Iran, so maybe something got lost in translation between Farsi and English.

  • Chris the Canadian

    Hmmmmmm, US agents COULDN’T have kidnapped him. Goodness gracious no the US doesn’t do things like that!!! I think there is some very potential viability to the idea that he was taken by US agents while in Saudi Arabia and questioned about Iran’s Nuclear program then once all the info was gained, released him to an embassy to go home. Why is this such a preposterous notion for people to believe? The report shown in Iran is suspicious only because we all have seen enough about Iranian state news to understand how they spin things, but it’s also not against the realm of legitimate possibility that this happened.

    It could possibly also be a case of him coming forward and saying he wanted to defect then changing his mind.

  • Albert Bakker

    Well, this thickened plot gives pretty much a definitive answer as to which of the dueling videos last time was the real fake. This gets tiresome in it’s repetitiveness, sigh.

    http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2010/07/13/the-shahram-affair/

  • Spindok

    Wait, we have actual spies, who do spy stuff like this?

    Good thing that good honest patriots like Justin are actually aware to warn the rest of us. (sarcasm)

    My opinion is they grabbed a not so very useful source and set him adrift having gathered all they could. They were probably at a point where they could not hope to extract his family and he had to make the choice. Maybe the Iranians promised a better deal.

    This is nothing new in how things are done in the spook world which is as old as history.

    In current events anyone watching the situation concerning Iran and it’s dealings knows that most of what happens is under the table. It is only recently that one gets the sense that maybe western sources have achieved a level of covert operations to match those of Hizbolla and the rest of the Iranian effort.

    This is war by other means. Yet it is a war and has been for some time now between the US and Iranian regime. Perhaps those who feel uncomfortable with this undeclared war would prefer the alternative. Big storm clouds happening now with major naval operations, antimissile defense, and more than enough firepower between US and Israel to wipe out the Iranian defences in short order.

    I like Iranian people as much as anyone. I have friends from there. It is no good to plea to the Iranian government to avert this catastrophe.

    The people there have spoken and have no chance of overthrowing the oppressive regime.

    I think the west will wait again, probably until it is too late

    Spindok

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