Defector do-over? Missing Iranian wants to go home

An Iranian nuclear scientist who had been missing for more than a year amid Iranian claims that the CIA had abducted him turned up at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington Tuesday and was preparing to return home, after providing what a U.S. official said was "useful information" about Iran's nuclear program.

Shahram Amiri disappeared in June last year while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

His mysterious case became still odder Tuesday morning with the news that he was at the Iranian interests section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. Amiri had been "dropped off" there at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Abdul Basit, the spokesman for Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, said.

That same evening, a senior U.S. official, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, sent the word to Iran via Swiss diplomats that Amiri had been in the United States of his own free will and was free to go, the State Department said.

Because Iran and the United States don't have diplomatic relations, Pakistan handles Iranian interests in the United States, while Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran.

Iran has accused the U.S. government of abducting and mistreating Amiri, a charge the scientist himself made in one of several contradictory homemade videos that were broadcast last month on state-run Iranian television.

Obama administration officials had denied kidnapping an Iranian scientist, but refused to comment on Amiri specifically until Tuesday.

"Mr. Amiri has been in the United States of his own free will and he is free to go," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "In fact, he was scheduled to travel to Iran yesterday but was unable to make all of the necessary arrangements to reach Iran through transit countries."

In contrast, Clinton noted, Iran still holds three young American hikers who were detained last year along the Iran-Iraq border and hasn't responded to U.S. requests for information about former FBI official Robert Levinson, missing in Iran since 2007.

Defector do-over? Missing Iranian wants to go home 07/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 12:13am]

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