Reuters: The United States said on Tuesday it was “utter nonsense” for Iran to accuse a U.S.-based scholar imprisoned in Tehran of trying to undermine the Islamic state and her employer denied she was a spy. By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday it was “utter nonsense” for Iran to accuse a U.S.-based scholar imprisoned in Tehran of trying to undermine the Islamic state and her employer denied she was a spy.
Haleh Esfandiari, a dual Iranian and U.S. citizen who works at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars think tank in Washington, was detained in Iran on May 8 and taken to Tehran’s Evin prison, the center and her family have said.
According to the center, Iranian state-run television reported on Monday that Esfandiari was being charged with “seeking to topple the ruling Islamic establishment.”
Neither the center nor the U.S. government could confirm whether formal charges have been filed and both denied that Esfandiari, who directs the Wilson Center’s Middle East program, had any such ambitions.
“Regardless of whether or not the Iranian government actually follows through with these charges or not, they’re just utter nonsense,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
McCormack likened the case to that of Parnaz Azima, a reporter for U.S.-funded Radio Farda who went to visit her ailing mother in Iran in January but whose passport was confiscated and who has been prevented from leaving Iran.
“Any sort of hint or statement that these individuals were a threat to the Iranian government is just really poppycock,” he added.
‘NOT A SPY’
The Wilson Center, which receives government and private funding and promotes the study of U.S. and international affairs, denied Iranian suggestions that Esfandiari sought to promote a “soft revolution” to topple Iran’s government.
“There is, of course, not a shred … of truth to the allegations against her,” Wilson Center President Lee Hamilton said at a news conference. “Iran is trying to turn a scholar into a spy. Haleh is a scholar. She has never been a spy.”
Esfandiari flew to Tehran in December to visit her elderly mother. As she drove to the airport to catch a flight back to Washington she was robbed of her belongings, including her U.S. and Iranian passports, the Wilson Center has said.
She applied for replacement Iranian travel documents and was interviewed by a representative of Iran’s intelligence ministry, which was then followed by weeks of interrogations focusing on her work for the center, it said.
Esfandiari’s arrest takes place amid tension between the United States and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making atom bombs. Iran denies this, saying it wants nuclear power to generate electricity.
The two countries, which have not had diplomatic relations since 1980, are also at odds over Iraq, where Washington accuses Tehran of fomenting the insurgency and of providing sophisticated roadside bombs that have killed U.S. soldiers.
U.S. officials also believe Tehran also may be holding former FBI official Robert Levinson, who went missing early in March while on a visit to the Iranian island of Kish. Iran has denied it is holding him.
U.S. forces in Iraq detained five Iranians in a raid in January and said they were linked to Iranian Revolutionary Guard networks that provided weapons to insurgents. Iran has said the five were diplomats and has demanded their release.