Iranian scientist was CIA asset inside Iran for years: NYT

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2010 (AFP) - The Iranian scientist who spent 14 months in the United States in mysterious circumstances had been a CIA informant inside Iran for years, The New York Times reported Friday.

"Shahram Amiri described to American intelligence officers details of how a university in Tehran became the covert headquarters for the country’s nuclear efforts," the report said citing unnamed US officials.

"While still in Iran, he was also one of the sources for a much-disputed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s suspected weapons program, published in 2007," it further cited the officials as saying.

Indeed it was "for several years" that "Amiri provided what one official described as 'significant, original' information about secret aspects of his country’s nuclear program," the US officials were quoted as saying.

Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri is welcomed by family members upon his arrival at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran on July 15. AFP

Amiri, repeating his claims he had been abducted by US spies, told reporters at Tehran airport that not only did he have nothing to do with Iran's controversial nuclear programme, he had also resisted US pressure to tell the media that he was a well-informed atomic scientist.

He said his captors wanted him to tell the US media that he had "defected on his own and was carrying important documents and a laptop which contained classified secrets of Iran's military nuclear programme."

"But with God's will, I resisted," Amiri said, soon after being welcomed at Tehran airport by his tearful son and overjoyed wife.

Amiri, who vanished from Saudi Arabia in June 2009 while on a pilgrimage, surfaced in Iran's Interests Section in Washington two days ago.

He jetted out of Washington on Wednesday after US officials insisted he had arrived in the United States on his own free will and that there was nothing stopping him from leaving.

He insisted on his arrival in Tehran that he was a "simple researcher" and not involved in Iran's nuclear programme, which world powers believe masks an atomic weapons drive despite continued Iranian denials.

"I had nothing to do with the Natanz and Fordo sites," Amiri said, referring to Iran's two uranium enrichment plants.

"It was a tool the US government brought up for political pressure," he said, referring to reports he was a nuclear scientist.

"I have done no research on nuclear. I am a simple researcher who works in a university which is open to all and there is no secret work happening there."

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