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