Ex-de­fec­tor fac­ing sus­pi­cion, scru­tiny af­ter re­turn to Iran

Austin American-Statesman - - FRIDAY BRIEFING - By David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti

An Ira­nian sci­en­tist re­turned to Tehran on Thurs­day to an un­cer­tain fu­ture as Amer­i­can of­fi­cials say he gave “sig­nif­i­cant, orig­i­nal” in­for­ma­tion about his coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram but then turned his back on a CIA re­set­tle­ment pack­age of $5 mil­lion.

While the sci­en­tist, Shahram Amiri, 32, was pub­licly greeted at home as a hero, Iran’s for­eign min­is­ter gave the first hints of of­fi­cial Ira­nian doubts of Amiri’s story that he was kid­napped by the CIA in Saudi Ara­bia last year.

“We first have to see what has hap­pened in these two years, and then we will de­ter­mine if he’s a hero or not,” the BBC quoted the for­eign min­is­ter, Manouchehr Mot­taki, as telling re­porters in Tehran. “Iran must de­ter­mine if his claims about be­ing kid­napped were cor­rect or not.”

U.S. of­fi­cials dis­missed Amiri’s pub­lic state­ments, which he re­peated at a news con­fer­ence im­me­di­ately upon his ar­rival in Tehran, that he had been brought to Amer­ica against his will.

They in­sisted that he was a de­fec­tor and said the “ben­e­fits pack­age” of $5 mil­lion was stan­dard for one who had given es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion. But the money would have been paid out over an ex­tended pe­riod, of­fi­cials said, and Amiri can’t take it with him be­cause U.S. fi­nan­cial sanc­tions pro­hibit fi­nan­cial trans­fers to Iran.

They also ques­tioned whether the Ira­ni­ans would ac­cept his ac­count of be­ing seized. “His safety de­pends on him stick­ing to that fairy tale about pres­sure and tor­ture,” one U.S. of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Ex­perts said he is likely to be viewed with sus­pi­cion by Iran’s govern­ment, both for what he may have told U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and be­cause of lurk­ing sus­pi­cions that he could be a dou­ble agent. U.S. of­fi­cials, in turn, now have to worry anew that he could have been sent by Iran to feed mis­in­for­ma­tion, though a govern­ment of­fi­cial said that his re­ports “checked out.”

Sev­eral for­mer Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers said that Ira­nian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials would be ex­pected to de­brief Amiri to try to learn ev­ery last de­tail about the ex­changes that took place be­tween him and his CIA han­dlers and ex­ploit any in­for­ma­tion to hunt for Amer­i­can spies.

Has­san Qashqavi, a deputy for­eign min­is­ter ap­pear­ing along­side Amiri at the news con­fer­ence in Tehran, in­sisted that Amiri knew noth­ing about Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram. “We deny that Amiri is a nu­clear sci­en­tist,” Qashqavi said. “Amiri is a re­searcher at one of Iran’s uni­ver­si­ties.”

ira­nian mosque bombed

Twin bomb­ings left at least 20 peo­ple dead Thurs­day out­side a Shi­ite mosque in Za­hedan, Iran. The killings, which in­cluded mem­bers of the pow­er­ful Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, came less than a month af­ter a Sunni in­sur­gent in the area was hanged.

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