The mystery of the homesick Iranian nuclear scientist
The facts are few: Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist, disappeared in June 2009 during a pilgrimage to Mecca. He turned up this week at the Iranian interests section in the Pakistani Embassy in Washington wanting to go home.
What happened during the year inbetween is quite murky and even a timeline of what is publicly known requires much reading between the lines and connecting circumstantial dots.
ABC News reported in March that Amiri had defected to the United States. That would be quite a catch.
Tehran had accused the CIA of abducting Amiri and Iran’s state television showed a video in June of what it said was Amiri declaring he had been kidnapped and taken to the United States where he was “tortured.”
All of this bubbled up on Tuesday prompting U.S. officials from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on down to declare that Amiri had been in the United States of his own free will and was free to leave anytime.
But why would an Iranian scientist who apparently defected to the United States turn around and very publicly announce loudly that he was going back to Iran where he is likely to be viewed with suspicion by some among the ruling powers?
One U.S. official (of the anonymous kind) tells me: “He may well be feeling some pressure from back home. The Iranians aren’t beyond using family to influence people. That could be one explanation for his contradictory messages.”
“That said, he’s decided of his own volition to go back, and the U.S. won’t stop him. He’s been a free man here, and that includes the freedom to make his own choices,” the official said.
Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (front window of the Iranian interests section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington)