Reporting from Beirut — – An Iranian nuclear scientist involved in a murky and clandestine tug-of-war between Tehran and Washington is on his way back to the Islamic Republic, a government spokesman said Wednesday morning.
Shahram Amiri, a 32- or 33-year-old scientist who was in the United States as a result of a defection or a kidnapping, has left America and is en route to Tehran, said the spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry.
"Shahram Amiri left America with a convoy from the interest section of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Washington a few minutes ago," Ramin Mehmanparast said in comments reported by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Another Foreign Ministry official, Hassan Qashqavi, told Iranian television that Amiri was scheduled to arrive in the Iranian capital Thursday morning via the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. A Qatari Airways flight arrives in Doha from Washington at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, and a flight to Tehran departs six hours later, arriving just before 6 a.m. Thursday.
Iran is steadily expanding its nuclear technology infrastructure and capabilities. The United States has vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, a goal Tehran denies it is pursuing.
Iran claims that Amiri was kidnapped during a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year and subjected to extreme psychological pressure by U.S. officials hoping to extract nuclear secrets, a narrative Amiri himself has at various points rejected and embraced in a series of videos posted to the internet in recent weeks.
U.S. officials say Amiri voluntarily defected to the United States, then got cold feet, perhaps worried about his family in Tehran, and yearned to head back home, which he was allowed to do.
He showed up late Monday at the Iranian interests section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, voicing a desire to repatriate. Mostafa Rahmani, head of Iran's Washington consular office, told Iranian state television that he arrived at the storefront mission accompanied by "U.S. security forces."
It was unclear whether Amiri spent Monday and Tuesday nights at Iran's small storefront mission or at the Pakistani Embassy two miles away. Islamabad officially hosts the Iranian mission in the absence of formal relations between Washington and Tehran. Switzerland hosts a small U.S. outpost in Tehran.
In an interview recounted on the website of Iran's state-owned English-language Press TV channel, Amiri promised to disclose more details about his 14-month U.S. odyssey once he arrived home.
"I was in a unique situation: not completely free, not completely in jail," he was quoted as saying on Iranian state television Wednesday. "It is difficult to explain."