A missing Iranian nuclear scientist, who Tehran claims was abducted by the United States, has taken refuge at the Pakistani embassy in Washington and is asking to return to his homeland, U.S. and Iranian officials said Tuesday.
It was the latest development in a murky case that has been shrouded in mystery since the scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June 2009.
Iran has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. abducted Amiri - charges the Americans deny. U.S. media reported in March that the 32-year-old scientist had defected to the U.S. and was assisting the CIA in efforts to undermine Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Adding to the confusion, Amiri himself appeared in a series of videos making conflicting claims, including one where he claimed he was kidnapped by American and Saudi agents and taken to the U.S. and another saying he was freely studying in the United States.
Iranian state television reported that Amiri entered the Pakistani embassy's office representing Iranian interests in Washington and demanded an immediate return to Iran.
A Pakistani diplomat in Washington said Amiri arrived at the building, which is separate from the main Pakistani embassy building just after dawn and told Iranians there that he had been dropped by what he called his captors.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Amiri indicated he wanted an Iranian passport and transportation to leave the U.S., the diplomat said, adding that Pakistani officials had yet to speak directly to Amiri. The Iranian interest section is technically part of Pakistan's embassy and is under Pakistani legal protection but is run by Iranians who issue visas for travelers to Iran and perform other functions.
A U.S. official confirmed the report.
He has been in the United States of his own free will, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. And he is, obviously, free to go.
A second American official, also speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said, Mr. Amiri is currently at the Pakistani Embassy awaiting appropriate travel documents from a third country that he plans to transit en route back to Iran.
Mostafa Rahmani, head of the Iranian office in Washington, said Amiri was there but declined to provide details.
Amiri's sudden appearance could prove an embarrassment to Washington, which accuses Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons. Iran denies that and maintains that its nuclear research is for peaceful purposes.
The United Nations in early June slapped a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to curtain its nuclear program.
Before he disappeared, Amiri worked at Tehran's Malek Ashtar University, an institution closely connected to the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Iran's state TV has periodically showed purported videos of Amiri claiming abduction and torture by the U.S. Iran has previously hinted it would trade three American prisoners it has held since last July for a number of Iranians allegedly detained by the United States, including Amiri. An Iranian spokesman later said no such deal was in the works.
The U.S. and Iran have had no diplomatic relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution. The Pakistan embassy in Washington looks after Iranian interests in the U.S., while the Swiss represent the Americans in Tehran.