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Iranian nuclear scientist defects to U.S.
By Haaretz Service and Agencies
An Iranian nuclear scientist who has been missing since June has defected to the United States and is helping the CIA, ABC news reported on
Citing unnamed sources briefed on the defection, the network said Shahram Amiri, a nuclear physicist in his early 30s, defected as part of a long-planned operation to get him to leave Iran and resettle in the United States.
"The significance of the coup will depend on how much the scientist knew in the compartmentalized Iranian nuclear programme," said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official who now works as a consultant for ABC.
"Just taking one scientist out of the program will not really disrupt it," he said.
A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment.
Amiri, a university researcher working for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, disappeared during a pilgrimage to Mecca in June, three months before Iran disclosed the existence of its second uranium enrichment site near the city of Qom.
In December, Tehran accused Saudi Arabia of handing Amiri over to the United States.
The ABC report said Amiri has been extensively debriefed since his defection and said he helped confirm U.S. intelligence assessments about the Iranian nuclear program.
Amiri was one two Iranian nuclear scientists reported missing in October, since when speculation over his defection has grown in light of Iran's contacts with Saudi officials in an effort locate him.
The contacts were unusual, as Iranians often go missing during the annual hajj pilgrimage. In such cases, the foreign ministry usually makes no announcement and there is no effort made to locate them, despite their families' pleas.
A second scientist, mentioned in press reports only by his surname, Ardebili, was allegedly arrested in Georgia a few weeks before Amiri's disappearance.
Iran's foreign ministry has denied claims Ardebili worked in the Iranian nuclear program, maintaining that he was a businessman who was extradited to the U.S. following his arrest.
In 2007, the former Iranian deputy defense minister and senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Ali Reza Asgari defected to the West. Several reports linked both the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad to the operation.