CIA did abduct me, says Iranian nuclear scientist preparing to flee US
An Iranian nuclear scientist who was alleged to have been abducted by the CIA is preparing to fly back to Tehran after seeking refuge at the Pakistani embassy in Washington.
By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent and Alex Spillius in Washington
Published: 7:13PM BST 13 Jul 2010
The authorities in Pakistan confirmed that Shahram Amiri had arrived at their embassy on Monday evening, and that arrangements were under way for him to be returned home.
It was the latest development in a murky case that began when Mr Amiri disappeared on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in late May 2009.
Iran has repeatedly claimed that he was abducted and brought to the US against his will. The American authorities have described that claim as "ludicrous" while hinting that the scientist had defected and was providing information about Iran's covert nuclear weapons programme.
Adding to the confusion, Mr Amiri appeared in conflicting videos distributed on YouTube within a few months of each other. In one he said he had been abducted, while in the other he said he was studying freely in the US.
Yesterday Mr Amiri, who is in his mid-30s and is married with a son, told Iranian state television by telephone that the incident was a "disgrace" for the American government.
He said it had been trying to return him to Iran "quietly" after the video which contained the abduction claim.
"After the release of my interview on the internet and the disgrace for the American government over this abduction, they wanted to quietly return me to Iran by some country's airline, so that while denying the whole thing they can put a cap on the abduction," he said.
"But in the end they couldn't. Since the day of the release of my remarks on the internet, the Americans have seen themselves as losers in this saga."
There has been speculation in the US that Mr Amiri fears for the safety of his family and his apparent change in tone may be an attempt to prevent retaliation against his family by the Iranian authorities.
The State Department said yesterday that there was nothing to stop Mr Amiri leaving the country.
"He has been here on his free will and is obviously free to go," said spokesman Philip Crowley.
A second US official, speaking anonymously, said: "Mr Amiri is currently at the Pakistani embassy awaiting appropriate travel documents from a third country that he plans to transit en route back to Iran."
Pakistan handles Iran's interests in Washington in an office staffed by a handful of Iranians.
Mr Amiri was a nuclear researcher at Tehran's Malek Ashtar University and also worked for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, according to Iranian sources.
His disappearance came three months before the Western governments released details of a previously unknown uranium enrichment plant being developed by the Iranians near the holy city of Qom.
Intelligence-related websites reported that Mr Amiri had provided important details, saying he had worked at Qom but had been "turned" by American intelligence agents while on official business in Frankfurt and at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
He is said to be a highly-regarded, English-speaking scientist. In March this year, the American channel ABC said official sources had confirmed that Mr Amiri had defected and was being debriefed by the CIA.
The Iranian authorities said at the end of June that they were presenting evidence to the Swiss embassy that Mr Amiri had been abducted, and demanding an investigation by the United States authorities.
Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since the Islamic revolution in 1979.