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American visits Iran blast site under freedom deal

Reza Taghavi, 71, and his wife, Mahnaz, say that he spent 29 months in a Tehran prison despite being innocent. He plans to return to his home in southern California on Thursday.

Associated Press

Reza Taghavi, 71, and his wife, Mahnaz, say that he spent 29 months in a Tehran prison despite being innocent. He plans to return to his home in southern California on Thursday.

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian-American businessman freed after more than two years in Tehran's main prison visited survivors of a deadly 2008 mosque bombing as a condition of his release in a scripted event Sunday that could carry propaganda value at home.

Iranian authorities did not immediately explain their demand for 71-year-old Reza Taghavi to pay homage in the southern city of Shiraz — and personally acknowledge an attack in which he denies having any connection. But it would fit neatly into possible Iranian attempts to squeeze multiple messages from Taghavi's release on Saturday after 29 months in custody.

It can easily score political points at home for the ruling clerics at a time when international sanctions are hurting Iran's economy.

Iran is pressing to resume talks on its nuclear program with the United States and other world powers after a yearlong standoff. The European Union's foreign affairs and security chief, Catherine Ashton, suggested last week after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that talks could be held as early as next month.

But Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already thrown up a big hurdle — saying talks could move forward only if the West clarifies its position on Israel's undeclared, but widely suspected, nuclear arsenal.

Taghavi — accompanied by his wife and lawyer — fulfilled his pledge to visit the site of the mosque bombing. They later met with survivors, including people who lost relatives in the attack. Iran did not release video of the encounters on state TV.

"Freedom is something so good. No one can imagine. I hope everybody enjoys his freedom," Taghavi told the Associated Press in Tehran before leaving for Shiraz, about 550 miles south of the capital. He plans to return to his home in southern California on Thursday via London.

American visits Iran blast site under freedom deal 10/17/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 17, 2010 11:57pm]
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