Iran nuclear scientist returns home from U.S.

An Iranian nuclear scientist who says he was abducted by CIA agents a year ago returned home from the United States early on Thursday saying he was pressured to lie about Iran's nuclear programme.

Washington denied kidnapping Shahram Amiri and insisted he had lived freely in the United States. A U.S. official said, however, that the United States, which suspects Iran of secretly developing nuclear weaponry, had obtained information from him.

Amiri, 32, repeated claims he was kidnapped in 2009 when on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and transferred to the United States, adding that he was offered $50 million to remain in America and "to spread lies" about Iran's nuclear work.

The scientist also said Israeli agents were involved in interrogating him.

Asked why Amiri was going back, a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Iranian authorities could have put pressure on his family back home.

But Amiri, holding his 7-year-old son at a news conference at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport, said: "My family had no problems."

Tehran and Washington have traded accusations over the murky saga which has underlined deep mistrust between the two nations.

"Americans wanted me to say that I defected to America of my own will to use me for revealing some false information about Iran's nuclear work," Amiri told reporters.

"I was under intensive psychological pressure by CIA ... the main aim of this abduction was to stage a new political and psychological game against Iran."

The United States and its European allies fear Iran is trying to build bombs under cover of a nuclear energy programme. Iran says it does not seek nuclear weapons.

The mystery surrounding Amiri fueled speculation that he may have passed information about Iran's nuclear programme to U.S. intelligence. ABC News reported in March that Amiri had defected and was helping the CIA.

"It is on Iran's agenda to pursue this case, " Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, according to state television. "Details must be clarified."

Wearing a beige suit, Amiri made victory signs as he hugged his tearful son and wife, who greeted him with other family members and a senior foreign ministry official, Hassan Qashqavi.

Iran says the CIA kidnapped Amiri, who worked for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. He surfaced at the Iranian interests section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington on Monday.

"Israeli Agents"

"Israeli agents were present at some of my interrogation sessions and I was threatened to be handed over to Israel if I refused to cooperate with Americans," said Amiri. Iran refuses to recognize Israel since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

Intelligence about the Iranian nuclear programme is at a premium for the United States, which fears that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its close ally, Israel, as well as oil supplies from the Gulf, and friendly nations in Europe.

Amiri said he had no valuable intelligence about the Iranian nuclear programme. "I am an ordinary researcher ... I have never made nuclear-related researches," the scientist said.

A man identifying himself as Amiri has variously said in recent videos that he was kidnapped and tortured, that he was studying in the United States and that he had fled U.S. agents and wanted human rights groups to help him return to Iran.

Before his disappearance, Amiri worked at Iran's Malek Ashtar University, an institution closely connected to the country's elite Revolutionary Guards. Tehran initially refused to acknowledge Amiri's involvement in Iran's nuclear programme.

Three months after Amiri's disappearance, Iran revealed the existence of its second uranium enrichment site, near the central holy Shi'ite city of Qom, further heightening tension over the Islamic state's atomic activities.

[Source: By Parisa Hafezi and Ramin Mostafavi, Reuters, Tehran, 15Jul10]

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