As propaganda battle rages, Iranian scientist returns home
WASHINGTON — An Iranian nuclear scientist purportedly paid $5 million by the CIA returned yesterday to his homeland amid an escalating propaganda war between Washington and Tehran.
The CIA agreed to pay Shahram Amiri $5 million to provide intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, but Amiri did not carry the money with him, a US official briefed on the case said.
“As for Amiri, anything he got is now beyond his reach, thanks to the financial sanctions on Iran,’’ said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because public discussion of the case was not authorized. “He’s gone, but the money’s still here.’’
Iran’s leaders are expected to use Amiri to ring up as many propaganda points as possible against Washington — showing that relations remain in a deep freeze.
The conflicting accounts about Amiri — whether he was a captive of the Americans or a homesick defector — are unlikely to alter the Western-led pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.
It also gives the ruling clerics a welcome distraction at a time when domestic protests are growing over Iran’s stumbling economy and worries about the fallout from international sanctions.
The money paid to Amiri came from a secret program aimed at inducing scientists and others with information on Iran’s nuclear program to defect, according to The Washington Post.
US officials have insisted that Amiri was neither kidnapped nor coerced into leaving Iran and that he made the decision to come to the United States without his family. The US official added that Amiri decided to return to Iran in order to see his family again.
In Tehran, a prominent parliament member, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, called the alleged kidnapping a “terrorist act.’’
It remains unclear how Iranian authorities will ultimately deal with Amiri — and the US claims he cooperated with American authorities — despite his hero-style welcome.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called Amiri a “dear compatriot’’ and said Iran was interested in learning more about the reasons for his alleged abduction.
Amiri’s predawn arrival capped a stunning series of events over the past month that included leaked videos with mixed messages, Amiri surfacing at a diplomatic compound in Washington, and the White House finally acknowledging his presence in the country.
The United States says he was a willing defector who changed his mind and decided to board a plane home. Amiri has told a very different tale, claiming he was snatched while on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and bundled off to the United States to be harshly interrogated and offered millions of dollars by the CIA to speak against Iran.
Amiri was embraced by his family — including his tearful 7-year-old son — and greeted by a top envoy from Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Amiri, 32, smiled and gave the V-for-victory sign.
Yesterday, Amiri sought to play down his role in Iran’s nuclear program.