Ex-defector facing suspicion, scrutiny after return to Iran
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.