U.S. Denies defection of Iran’s deputy defense minister
Wednesday, 7 March, 2007 @ 4:39 PM Yaliban
Beirut & Tehran - Iran's former deputy defense minister secretly defected to the United States last month and brought military secrets to the West, it was reported yesterday.
Ali Reza Asghari was not abducted - a claim that Iran is making - but instead sought asylum in America, senior Iranian sources told an influential Arab-language paper.
U.S. officials denied the report.
If he did defect, Asghari, 63, could provide a treasure trove of secrets about Iran's nuclear plans and its ties to Shiite militants in Iraq and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
The retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards vanished shortly after arriving in Istanbul on a private visit Feb. 7.
Israeli intelligence officials, who deny any involvement, said whatever happened to him must have been well planned in advance, with the cooperation of Turkish security.
His disappearance remained a secret until last weekend. Yesterday, Iran broke its silence.
The London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted senior Iranian sources as saying Asghari is headed for the United States "along with the secrets he carried."
But Iran claimed that Asghari didn't leave voluntarily.
"It is likely that Asghari has been abducted by the Western intelligence services," Iranian Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam said.
Iranian officials said they were sending a delegation to Turkey to help with the investigation. Turkish officials said they had no information on Asghari's fate.
But Turkish media suggested he defected, apparently with the help of two foreigners who arranged for his hotel room.
The newspaper Milliyet added that Turkish intelligence officials believe Asghari opposed the fanatically anti-American government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and had valuable secrets about Tehran's nuclear plans.
Menashe Amir, an Israeli analyst of Iranian affairs, said it appeared Asghari's "wife and children managed to leave Iran before his disappearance."
But a U.S. intelligence official insisted Asghari was not in the United States or headed here.
"We don't have him," the source told The Post.
Britain's Daily Telegraph suggested Israel's Mossad agents had abducted Asghari in an effort to solve another mystery, the fate of Israeli airman Ron Arad.
Arad was captured by Hezbollah after bailing out over southern Lebanon in 1986 and reportedly was transferred to Iran. Asghari was a key liaison between Iran and Hezbollah at the time.
Sources: New York post