The U.S. State Department said today that Iran had passed on a diplomatic note through the Swiss embassy in Tehran regarding missing nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who Tehran insists was abducted by the U.S. government.
"They allege in the note that we have him and they want him back," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters today. "We will respond to the diplomatic note."
Two videos of Amiri surfaced on YouTube earlier this week, one showing Amiri telling an Iranian journalist he had been abducted by the U.S., the other showing Amiri claiming to be safe and happy in the U.S.
Asked about the conflicting videos, Crowley replied, "The [second video] will not be able to tell us any more about this individual's whereabouts than the first one." The U.S. has not given any official acknowledgement of Amiri's location.
The topic of Amiri came up during what Crowley says was a previously scheduled meeting yesterday between the Swiss ambassador and Iran's foreign ministry.
Amiri, 32, has been at the center of a mystery since his disappearance on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year. ABC News reported exclusively on March 30 that he had defected to the U.S. and was providing information about Iran's secret nuclear program, citing current and former CIA officials.
In a video posted online by Iranian television, with English subtitles, Amiri claimed he had been drugged and kidnapped and was living in Tucson, Ariz.
"Since I was abducted and brought to the U.S., I was heavily tortured and pressured by U.S. intelligence," Amiri says in Farsi.
"When I became conscious, I found myself in a plane on the way to the U.S.," he says.
Amiri claims that he was forced to lie and pretend that he had top secret information on the Iranian nuclear program so the U.S. could put "pollitical pressure" on Iran, and then asks international human rights organizations to help free him from captivity in the U.S.
Amiri, unshaven and wearing headphones, appears to be talking through a computer phone hook-up, which he says on the tape was made on April 5, one week after ABC News first reported his alleged defection to the US.
At almost the same time the first video was posted on line by Iranian television, a second video was posted on YouTube late Monday night in which Amiri appears in a professionally lit setting and says he is safe and happy to be in the United States. It is not clear who produced or posted the second video.
"I am free here and I assure everyone I am safe," he says.
Iranian Scientist in U.S. Misses Family
"My purpose in today's conversation is to put an end to all the rumors that have been leveled at me over the past year. I am Iranian and I have not taken any steps against my homeland," he says, and then asserts that his purpose in being in the US is to get a doctorate in radiation health "in order to upgrade the level of healthcare in my country and my world."
Amiri adds that he would like to share the results of his education with his people "provided that I have a chance to go back home safely."
He talks about missing his son and wife, denies that he abandoned them, and says, "I have confidence that the government of Iran will protect and watch over my family."
U.S. officials tell ABC News they consider Amiri's defection an "intelligence coup" in its continuing efforts to undermine Iran's nuclear program.
CIA officials declined to publicly comment on any aspect of the case but a senior US intelligence official said "it's ridiculous to think the United States would have to compel anyone to defect and then force them to stay in this country."
Intelligence officials asked if the scientist was being held against his will, how did he have access to the internet to call Iran?
It is not uncommon for defectors to go through "psychological issues," according to an intelligence official familiar with the case.
The Iranian government says the initial video of Amiri is evidence that the United States is holding the scientist against his will.
After his disappearance, the Iranian foreign minister, Manoucher Mottaki, and Amiri's family blamed the US for kidnapping the scientist. His family had protested outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran, claiming the Saudis had played a role in Amiri's "abduction."