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Clinton: Iranian Scientist Free to Leave US

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to questions from reporters regarding Shahram Amiri, at the US State Department 13July 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to questions from reporters regarding Shahram Amiri, at the US State Department 13July 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that an Iranian nuclear scientist, who Iran claims was abducted by U.S. agents, is in the United States on his own free will and is free to leave. The Iranian, Shahram Amiri, turned up at the Iranian interests section, located at the Pakistani embassy in Washington.

Officials here are saying nothing about Amiri's activities or where he has been since he disappeared while on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia during June of last year.

But they insist that he has been in the United States on his own free will, has not been mistreated, and is free to return to his homeland whenever he wants.

The comments followed an Iranian announcement that that Amiri, a 32-year-old nuclear scientist, had entered the Iranian office in Washington, officially part of the Pakistani embassy, and asked for his immediate return to Iran.

Iran has repeatedly accused the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of abducting Amiri, who worked for a university with close links to the country's Revolutionary Guards Corps.

But Amiri purportedly has given conflicting accounts in videos appearing on the Internet in recent weeks.

In one, he allegedly said he was kidnapped by U.S. agents, in another he purportedly said he had escaped from U.S. intelligence, and in a third that he was free and safe and studying in the United States.

The U.S. broadcast network ABC reported earlier this year that Amiri had defected and provided information on Iran's nuclear program, which U.S. officials say has a weapons component.

At a press event with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Amiri is free to leave the United States, and contrasted his case with three American hikers who have been jailed in Iran since straying into the country from northern Iraq last year.

"Mr. Amiri has been in the United States of his own free will and he is free to go,," Clinton said. "In fact he was scheduled to travel to Iran yesterday, but was unable to make all the necessary arrangements to reach Iran through transit countries. In contrast, Iran continues to hold three young Americans against their will. And we reiterate our request that they be released and allow to return to their families on a humanitarian basis."

Clinton also said the United States still has no information on the status of Robert Levinson, a former agent with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation who disappeared after arriving at an Iranian resort island in the Persian Gulf in 2007.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the mention of the Americans held or believed missing in Iran was not a suggestion that some sort of exchange deal was being discussed.

He also said he had no information to suggest that Amiri had been mistreated while in the United States, despite claims he made in an Iranian interview that had been subjected to psychological pressure.

A U.S. official said Amiri came and lived freely in the United States, and that his videos and other actions prove he was not here against his will, and that he was neither tortured nor imprisoned.

Although the United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Tehran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has operated its interests section in Washington for several years -- mainly handling consular services for Iranians in the United States.

The United States is represented in Iran by Switzerland, but has no interests section in Tehran.