The case of the missing Iranian nuclear physicist
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
06 Oct 2009 16:31
[ comment ] New information has emerged indicating that the United States may have become aware of the developing Qom uranium enrichment facility by an Iranian nuclear scientist -- or at the very least, the scientist may have confirmed U.S. suspicions about the site.
As first reported by Tehran Bureau, the scientist, Shahram Amiri, went missing in May. Amiri, a nuclear physics researcher at Malek-e Ashtar University (which is linked to Iran's military), was working at the Qom facility.
Amiri traveled to Saudi Arabia last May, ostensibly for the Omreh Haj - the pilgrim to Mecca - but disappeared there and has not been heard from ever since. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hassan Ghashghavi, has confirmed that Amiri is missing.
When asked by a reporter during an Oct. 5 press conference whether Amiri has defected to the West by seeking political asylum in Saudi Arabia, he responded that "he has disappeared there."
But Jahan News, an Iranian website close to the conservatives, reported that a Saudi official said that Amiri has received political asylum in Saudi Arabia.
In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicholas Sarkozy of France on September 25, President Obama stated that, "earlier this year, there was an accumulation of evidence that gave us high confidence that this [the Qom site] was intended to be a uranium enrichment facility." (Emphasis in italics throughout article author's.)
President Obama also said that, "We began consulting with our partners earlier this summer to coordinate the disclosure of the site."
The official U.S. statement about the Qom site said, "Earlier this year, we developed information that gave us increased confidence that the [Qom] facility was a uranium enrichment site."
U.S. intelligence officials have said that while they have known for several years about the Qom facility, their confidence about its purpose "increased measurably this year."
All four statements keep referring back to a time period that coincides with Amiri's disappearance in Saudi Arabia.
The official U.S. statement regarding the Qom facility also stated that, "We have reason to believe that Iran's letter [to the IAEA] refers to this [Qom] site, and the timing of the letter may have been prompted by Iranian fears that the existence of the secret site may soon become known."
Iranian officials are not naïve enough to believe that the construction activities at the Qom site would not be detected by U.S. satellites or those belonging to its allies. Therefore, if any "fear" of disclosure prompted Iran to send a letter to the International Atomic Energy Organization on Monday, Sept. 21, 2009, to notify the Agency about the existence of the Qom facility, its source could not have been the satellites, but rather a person, or "a human source."
Asked about the certainty of U.S. intelligence, the official said that "we have excellent clandestine collection" and "multiple, independent sources... that allow us to corroborate. We are highly confident that the facility is for uranium enrichment," which again indicates that a human source may have been involved.
Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, recently said that, "We submit our complaint about the kidnapping of our nuclear scientists to the international community." He mentioned Amiri as one of the kidnapped scientists.
Iran's former deputy Defense Minister, Brigadier General Ali Reza Asgari, disappeared in Istanbul, Turkey, in February 2007. He was either kidnapped, as some Arab officials claimed (he had traveled to Istanbul from Damascus, Syria), or defected to the West. His current whereabouts remain unknown. It is believed that it was due to the information that Asgari provided that the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 stated with high confidence that Iran had ended its secret nuclear weapon program in 2003, although no credible evidence has ever surfaced about the existence of the program.
Dr. Ardeshir Hosseinpour, an authority on electromagnetism who worked at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, died under mysterious circumstances in January 2007. It is widely believed that he was murdered by Israel's Mossad. Earlier, in July 2001, Col. Ali Mahmoudi Mimand, known as the father of Iran's missile program, was found murdered in his office in Tehran.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau
Cover photo alteration/Boston Globe.