London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has accused the US of being involved in the disappearance of Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri from Saudi Arabia where he was performing Umrah in May, and placed responsibility for this disappearance on Saudi Arabia.
The official Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency [IRNA] quoted Mottaki as saying “We hold Saudi Arabia responsible for Shahram Amiri’s situation, and consider the US to be involved in his arrest.” Iranian Fars News Agency previously quoted Mottaki as saying that the US was involved in the “disappearance” of Shahram Amiri and that Iran “will monitor this case.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi refused to confirm that Shahram Amiri is a nuclear expert, saying only that Saudi Arabia was responsible for his safety.
Despite this, Iranian media quoted members of Amiri’s family as saying that he worked for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran [AEOI] and was a nuclear expert working for a university in Tehran where he researched medical uses for nuclear technology.
An Iranian source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran “asked Saudi Arabia to assist in locating Shahram Amiri, and to clarify the circumstances surrounding his disappearance” although Iran has yet to receive a response. Meanwhile other Iranian sources claimed that Tehran will call for Interpol to investigate the disappearance of the Iranian scientist.
Iranian officials avoided describing Amiri as a nuclear scientist or a member of the AEOI due to the sensitivity of the circumstances surrounding his disappearance. Shahram Amiri’s disappearance came only four months before western intelligence agencies revealed the existence of a secret underground Iranian nuclear facility outside the city of Qom, raising questions about the relationship between the disappearance of this scientist and the discovery of the Qom Nuclear Facility. The Iranian JANA news website reported that Amiri worked at the Qom facility, and that when he traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform pilgrimage, he did so with the intention of escaping abroad, although the website did not publish the source of this information.
An Iranian official who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat refused to draw any ties between Iranian accusations over Amiri’s disappearance and recent developments in the Iranian nuclear file. However US sources close to the nuclear file expressed concerns to Asharq Al-Awsat that “circles within the governing institutions in Iran” wish to “obstruct the nuclear talks” in order to deliberately exploit the [Shahram Amiri] issue for political reasons.
Asharq Al-Awsat attempted to get an official response from Washington over Iran’s accusations that the US is involved in the disappearance of Amiri, but the US State Department, National Security Council, and the White House, failed to respond to Asharq Al-Awsat’s questions at the time of publication.
The US State Department told Asharq Al-Awsat “We do not have an immediate comment on this subject.”
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings which took place in New York two weeks ago, an Iranian source revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat the details of a tense meeting held between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. During this meeting, Mottaki told the UN Secretary-General that Iran was making an international complaint over the disappearance of 4 Iranians, including Shahram Amiri; Tehran believe these four Iranians are either being imprisoned by the US, or the US has facilitated their transfer to other countries.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki spoke briefly about Amiri yesterday, expanding upon details of this case to the Iranian media. He confirmed that Tehran is accusing the US of being involved in Amiri’s disappearance, and that Amiri “is rumored to have been involved in Tehran’s nuclear program.”
The Iranian Student’s News Agency [ISNA] also made reference to “some rumors that Shahram Amiri, who disappeared whilst performing umrah in Saudi Arabia in May, was an employee of AEOI and wanted to seek asylum abroad.”
The official Iranian Press TV website also quoted Mottaki as saying “We have found documents that prove U.S. interference in the disappearance of the Iranian pilgrim Shahram Amiri in Saudi Arabia.” Mottaki also confirmed to Press TV that Amiri was a researcher at the “Malek-Ashtar University of Technology” which is affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but refused to give further details.
Iranian Press TV also quoted Shahram Amiri’s wife as saying “he did not contact his family other than a few telephone calls at the beginning of his journey.” She was also quoted by ISNA as saying that Shahram Amiri had traveled to Saudi Arabia on 31 May and that she was last in contact with him until 3 June, when he telephoned her from Saudi Arabia.
Iranian sources who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that the Malek-Ashtar University of Technology is managed and financed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and was formed to carry out “specialist research projects” for the Iranian military and defense institutes. The University is located in the city of Isfahan, and its faculties specialize in aeronautics, electrical engineering, and nuclear physics. Isfahan is also the location of Iran’s Natanz Nuclear Facility, which is generally recognized as Iran’s central facility for uranium enrichment. The UN has also made reference to the Malek-Ashtar University of Technology as being involved in experiments linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
According to what Asharq Al-Awsat uncovered two weeks ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki demanded the UN investigate the disappearance of Shahram Amiri, as well as the disappearance of three others. Iran called for the UN to investigate the disappearance of former Iranian deputy defense minister and Revolutionary Guards General Ali Reza Asgari, who disappeared during a visit to Turkey. Mottaki also informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that a third Iranian had disappeared, a Mr. Ardebilli, an Iranian businessman who is believed to have ties to the Revolutionary Guard, and who was in Georgia purchasing military equipment when he disappeared.
Speaking in a press conference on Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi confirmed that Ardebilli disappeared from Georgia during a business trip. Qashqavi told reporters that Tehran is accusing Georgia of arresting Ardebilli and handing him over to the US.
As for the fourth person whose disappearance Mottaki discussed with UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, this is Iranian diplomat Nosratollah Tajik, who is currently being held by Britain after being caught in an FBI sting operation attempting to smuggle $50,000 worth of night-vision equipment into Iran from London. Nosratollah Tajik, who is 54-years old, had retired to live in Britain with his wife and child prior to his arrest in London. However reports emerged that Tajik was not retired, but was in fact running an international Iranian arms smuggling ring through Britain, Turkey, and the UAE. The British courts are currently considering a US request for Tajik’s extradition to America for trial.
The disappearance of Ali Reza Asgari is the most sensitive of these because due to his high-ranking position in the Revolutionary Guards and Ministry of Defense Asgari is in possession of sensitive [security] information. Asgari previously served in the reformist government of former Iranian President Mohamed Khatami, although he was removed from his position with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is not known whether Asgari fled Iran of his own free will, or whether he was kidnapped, although there are strong indications that he was questioned by western intelligence agencies, and revealed sensitive information about Iran’s nuclear program, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Iranian missile program.
An Iranian intelligence source in 2007 described Asgari as being “a goldmine of intelligence information” and revealed that Israeli intelligence had been tracking him since the 1980s. Iranian sources pointed to the “similarity” between the manner in which Asgari disappeared and the way that Amiri disappeared. The sources also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Revolutionary Guards was conducting an internal investigation into Iran’s military and security institutes, universities, and AEOI in order to find out whether this [disappearance] was an infiltration or espionage operation.
The Iranian media revealed that Asgari disappeared during an official visit to Turkey, and that the Asgari family asked the Turkish embassy in Tehran for information on his movements prior to his disappearance, although the embassy did not have specific information on this. Asgari’s family denied that he would be voluntarily cooperating with Western intelligence, or that he was planning to defect after smuggling his family abroad.
Just one month after Asgari’s disappearance, his wife Ziba Ahmadi, told Iranian Merh News “his family is in Tehran, so how can he have fled?” She said that 90 percent of the information on her husband’s disappearance indicates Israeli involvement in his “kidnapping” and she called on the Iranian government to intervene. She added “Although the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister said their ministries are dealing with the issue, I have until now not received any information about this.”
Asgari is also married to second wife Zahra Abdollahpour, and both wives informed Iranian Labour News Agency [ILNA] that “We only know that Turkish security forces have handed him over to Israel.”
Ali Reza Asgari, a prominent leader in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and former Iranian Deputy Defense Minister disappeared from Turkey during an official visit to Istanbul on 7 February 2007. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance are unclear, although Iranian sources claim that he was last seen at the Gilan hotel in Istanbul. For its part, Turkey has not issued any official statement on the disappearance of Asgari, although Iranian officials in March 2007 said that they believed Asgari was arrested and interrogated by western and US intelligence in order to obtain “sensitive information that [Asgari] knew as deputy defense minister.”
However contrary reports have emerged indicating that Asgari fled voluntarily and that he has cooperated with western intelligence revealing sensitive Iranian information on the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s relations with Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Moqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army, and the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq.