Iran Nuclear Scientist Shahram Amiri Heads Home amid Propaganda War

Article excerpt

The saga of Iran nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who reportedly defected to the US last year, is a special case in the 31-year propaganda war between the US and Iran.

Iran nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri is reportedly headed back home after declaring that he had been kidnapped by American agents in Saudi Arabia and brought to the US against his will.

Just months before, US officials had called Mr. Amiri's arrival in the US a defection and hailed it as an "intelligence coup" for the CIA. More recently, according to ABC news, officials said Amiri had supplied nuclear secrets for years and had "provided evidence that Iran continued a program to produce nuclear weapons."

Even by the high standards of a 31-year propaganda war between the US and Iran, the Amiri saga is a special case.

Iran's state-run media claimed Amiri's return as a victory for the country, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was nonchalant on Tuesday, saying Amiri had "been in the United States of his own free will and he is free to go."

"On the propaganda score, I would give a marginal victory to Iran at the moment," says Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "There are more questions to be answered by the Americans, I think. But it's not an [Iranian] triumph."

"The more [the Iranians] talk about it, the more propaganda they make about it, the more I think they're trying to ... disguise something that went wrong," adds Dr. Ansari, who says everyone is telling "half-truths."

'Baffling' case leaves many questions unanswered

Analysts say there are more questions than answers in a "baffling" case, which makes it easy for both sides to claim propaganda victory.

Senior Iranian officials have presented to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran - which handles American interests in Iran - what they described as "evidence" that Amiri was victim of a US and Saudi kidnap operation during the hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June last year.

The US denies the charge, and until this week did not acknowledge Amiri's presence in the country. Officials have so far presented nothing - such as a visa application, or a copy of a plane ticket - to indicate that Amiri arrived in America through normal channels. Student visas for Iranians require university acceptance, proof of sufficient funds, and are typically a long and involved process.

Likewise, Iran has downplayed the 33-year-old's nuclear credentials, claiming for months that he was never an employee of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, and regularly referring to Amiri on official broadcasts simply as an "abducted academic."

But an Iranian news site reported that Amiri had worked at Iran's Qom nuclear site, the existence of which was declared by Iran in September - several months after Amiri disappeared - when it became aware that the US and Western intelligence agencies knew of it.

Amiri's contradictory YouTube videos

The competing narratives have been fueled by Amiri's own set of contradictory YouTube videos.

In one aired on June 29, which ABC reported he was compelled to make after his wife and son back in Iran were threatened, he accuses the US of kidnapping him. He speaks of his "escape" from American intelligence handlers in Virginia and his wish to return to Iran.

"I could be arrested at any time by US agents.... I am not free and I'm not allowed to contact my family. If something happens and I do not return home alive, the US government will be responsible," says Amiri, his eyes darting repeatedly to the top of the screen. "I ask Iranian officials and organizations that defend human rights to raise pressure on the US government for my release and return to my country."

In a later one, which ABC says was made by the CIA, Amiri - flanked by a globe and chess set - spoke of his desire to stay in America and pursue his studies. …