Two Iranian nuclear scientists who mysteriously disappeared in recent weeks have defected to the United States, it was reported yesterday.These two will be able to give the US, the IAEA, and others insight into the Iranian nuclear weapons program that they have been unable to attain to date.
Iran confirmed that one of the atomic researchers, Shahram Amiri, vanished during a Muslim pilgrimage, the hajj, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Officials in Tehran said they had evidence that the United States spirited him away.
"We have found documents that prove US interference in the disappearance of the Iranian pilgrim Shahram Amiri in Saudi Arabia," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said.
Amiri worked at Tehran's Malek Ashtar University, a facility closely tied to Iran's military. The university's Web site said it is involved in "special national research projects."
Amiri's defection was reported by a Saudi-owned newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, which said he is likely to have top-secret information about Iran's uranium-enrichment plant hidden in a mountain near Qom.
The newspaper said a second Iranian nuclear scientist was arrested in the country of Georgia a few weeks ago and agreed to defect to the West.
It may also explain why Iran was suddenly willing to spill the beans about the nuclear enrichment facility in Qom. They must have realized that the West knew about it anyways, and wanted to get ahead of the news to make it appear that they're giving a concession when it is simply a ploy to buy more time to continue enrichment activities.
This isn't the first time that individuals linked to Iran's nuclear program have gone missing. Two years ago a high ranking Iranian official disappeared in Turkey. Iran claimed the US or Israel captured him, but both countries deny any involvement.
These kinds of disappearances are important for several reasons. It disrupts the nuclear weapons program because the knowledge base is affected along with the need to tighten security further to protect against further disappearances. It also gives the West additional insight into the Iranian program, and can provide critical information about locations and status updates on the enrichment activities.