Iran says scientist jailed in US to return in days

Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari is due to return to his country in the coming days. (Courtesy of TWitter)
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Updated 01 June 2020

Iran says scientist jailed in US to return in days

  • Asgari was accused by a US court in 2016 of stealing trade secrets while on an academic visit to Ohio
  • Iran’s foreign ministry said last month that Asgari had contracted the novel coronavirus while in US custody

TEHRAN: Tehran said Monday that scientist Sirous Asgari, one of more than a dozen Iranians behind bars in the United States, is set to return to the Islamic republic within days.
Asgari was accused by a US court in 2016 of stealing trade secrets while on an academic visit to Ohio.
But the 59-year-old scientist from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology was acquitted in November.
The academic told British newspaper The Guardian in March that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was keeping him in a detention center in Louisiana without basic sanitation and refusing to let him return to Iran despite his exoneration.
“Dr. Sirous Asgari’s case has been closed in America and he will probably return to the country in the next two or three days,” said Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
“That is, if no issues or obstacles come up,” he said, quoted by semi-official news agency ISNA.
Iran’s foreign ministry said last month that Asgari had contracted the novel coronavirus while in US custody.
If he returns to Iran, the scientist would become one of the few detainees held by either side not to have been released in a prisoner exchange.
Both Iran and the United States hold a number of each other’s nationals and they have recently called for them to be released amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iran is battling what is the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the virus, while the US has reported the highest total number of deaths worldwide from the disease.
Iran is holding at least five Americans and the US has 19 Iranians in detention, according to a list compiled by AFP based on official statements and media reports.
Tensions between the two arch enemies escalated in 2018, after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said last month that Tehran had offered “some time ago” to exchange all Iranian and US prisoners but was waiting for a response from the US.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of US homeland security, responded mockingly by saying Iran should “send a charter plane over” and return its nationals.
Mousavi hit back on Twitter by saying the world “is watching your action, not your word.”
The Islamic republic in December freed Xiyue Wang, a US academic, in exchange for scientist Massoud Soleimani and said it was open to further swaps.
It has also said it has released more than 100,000 inmates, including 1,000 foreigners, to ease the pressure on Iran’s prison system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Americans and dual nationals currently known to be held by Iran include US Navy veteran Michael R. White, Siamak Namazi along with his father Baquer, Morad Tahbaz, Gholam Reza Shahini, and Karan Vafadari.
Asgari is one of the 19 held by the US, most of them dual nationals and charged with evading sanctions by either exporting goods to Iran or using the US financial system.
Long-time foes Iran and the United States have appeared to come to the brink of a direct conflict twice in the past year.
The most recent case was in January when Iran fired a barrage of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general.
Trump refrained from taking any military action in response, however.
Iran on Monday also vowed to keep sending shipments of fuel to Venezuela in defiance of US threats.
The US has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports by both Iran and Venezuela, both major crude producers.
“If Venezuela demands new shipments, we will export more to this country and any other who requires our shipments,” Mousavi said.
It comes days after Iranian tankers carrying much-needed petrol arrived in Venezuela.


US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

Updated 18 min 7 sec ago

US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

  • The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government
  • Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians

BEIRUT: The United States called on Saturday for a transparent and credible investigation into the massive port blast in Beirut that killed 172 people and said Lebanon could never go back to the days “in which anything goes” at its ports and borders.
The Aug. 4 blast, which the authorities say was caused by more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been unsafely stored at the port for years, injured 6,000 people, damaged swathes of the city and left 300,000 homeless.
Some 30 people remain missing.
“Seeing it on television is one thing, seeing it up close is another. It’s really overwhelming,” David Hale, US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said after visiting the port.
“We can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the port or the borders of Lebanon that had to contribute to this situation,” Hale said. “Every sovereign state controls its ports and its borders thoroughly and I imagine all Lebanese would like to return to that era.”
He added that FBI agents would be arriving this weekend, at the invitation of Lebanon, to help find out what exactly happened and what led to the explosion.
The blast has fueled anger at ruling politicians who were already facing heavy criticism over a financial meltdown that has sunk the currency, left savers unable to withdraw their money, and fueled poverty and unemployment since October.
President Michel Aoun has said a probe will look into whether the cause of the blast was negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
The heavily armed Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, said on Friday it would wait for results of the official Lebanese investigation into the blast.
But if it turns out to be an act of sabotage by Israel then it would “pay an equal price”, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address. Israel has denied any role in the explosion.
Nasrallah also said his group was against an international investigation because its first purpose would be to “distance Israel from any responsibility for this explosion, if it had responsibility.” He said the participation of the FBI in an investigation would serve the same purpose.
The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government, which formed in January with backing of Hezbollah and its allies including Aoun.
Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians.
In his strongest intervention yet since the blast, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai also said the church reserved the right to veto any proposals that further jeopardize Lebanon.
His comments in a sermon were reported by Lebanese broadcaster LBC.
The Maronite church exercises political sway in a country where the head of state must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Iran backs Hezbollah and in a visit to Beirut on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said international efforts should help Lebanon rather than “impose anything on it.”
Western visitors including French President Emmanuel Macron and the US State Department’s Hale have called for Lebanon to implement reforms including anti-corruption measures that the country’s leaders have avoided for years.