Nuclear Scientist Heads Back To Iran Details keep emerging in the story of an Iranian nuclear researcher who spent a year in the United States after apparently defecting during a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. U.S. officials say the Iranian scientist turned up at the Pakistani embassy in Washington D.C., which takes care of Iranian interests.
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Nuclear Scientist Heads Back To Iran

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Nuclear Scientist Heads Back To Iran

Nuclear Scientist Heads Back To Iran

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Mary Louise Kelly in for Steve Inskeep.


It's a confusing tale full of twists and turns. It begins with an Iranian nuclear researcher who went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia last year. On that trip he disappeared.

LOUISE KELLY: Now, depending on who you believe, he was either kidnapped or defected. He eventually emerged in the United States and was studying for a doctorate in Arizona. Monday evening he turned up in Washington at the Pakistani embassy, which handles Iranian interest in the U.S., and he said he wanted to go back to Iran

MONTAGNE: Good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And Jackie, tell us all you know, at this point, of this young scientist.

NORTHAM: The first one shows Amiri and he's looking nervous and he's speaking in Farsi, which is his mother tongue, and let's listen to a little of that tape.

SHAHRAM AMIRI: (Farsi language spoken)

NORTHAM: So in this tape, Amiri backs what the Iranian government was saying, that he was abducted and that he was drugged and he ends up here in the U.S. where he claims he was tortured, and that's something the U.S. disputes.

MONTAGNE: Okay, that's the first tape. Now there was a second tape that appeared shortly afterwards.

NORTHAM: Yes. That's right and it came out very quickly after this first one, and it's a completely different Amiri. He's dressed smartly and it's a highly produced tape. And in this second one, he says that he's safe, that he's free to travel and, in fact, he's trying to get his PhD at a university in Tucson, Arizona.

MONTAGNE: So what is known about what happened between those two very different tapes?

NORTHAM: So the first tape it's believed was a way to appease the Iranian government, so they'd go easy on his family, but it's very hard to say way he made the second video.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, how important a source of information would he have been about the Iranian nuclear program?

NORTHAM: Well, Renee, people I spoke with said that the Iranian nuclear program is highly compartmentalized, so most people who work on the program have a fairly narrow focus. And Amiri was a junior scientist at one facility so it's unlikely he would've had access to top security secrets about Iran's nuclear program. You know, still, he would've been able to provide some information and that's why he was debriefed by the U.S. officials.

MONTAGNE: And then, this last Monday, he suddenly showed up at the Pakistani embassy.

NORTHAM: Amiri made his way to the embassy and he said he wanted to go home. And the U.S. said look, he was free to come here and he is free to return to Iran. And, in fact, the U.S. government helped to facilitate his return.

MONTAGNE: Fascinating. Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR foreign affairs correspondent Jackie Northam.

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