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Clinton says Iranian scientist is “free to go”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now admitted that Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri has been in the United States, after months in which the State Department refused to acknowledge that he was in the country or dealing with the U.S. government in any way. "Mr. Amiri has been in the United States of his ...

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now admitted that Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri has been in the United States, after months in which the State Department refused to acknowledge that he was in the country or dealing with the U.S. government in any way.

"Mr. Amiri has been in the United States of his own free will and he is free to go. In fact, he was scheduled to travel to Iran yesterday but was unable to make all of the necessary arrangements to reach Iran through transit countries," Clinton said Tuesday, answering questions following her meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

Clinton wouldn’t go into any more detail than that, but did call for the release of Americans held in Iran, including former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who mysteriously disappeared in March 2007 while visiting Iran’s Kish Island. She denied that the United States had abducted Amiri or held him against his well. "He’s free to go. He was free to come. These decisions are his alone to make," she said.

The State Department has given out little information since Amiri showed up at the Pakistani compound late Monday evening. Pakistan officially represents the Iranian interests section, the only semi-formal presence of Iranian diplomats in Washington, D.C.

Amiri, whom the Iranian regime has alleged was kidnapped by the CIA over a year ago, surfaced earlier this month in a YouTube video claiming he was abducted and taken to the U.S. against his will. "We know exactly where he is. He’s on YouTube," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley joked at the time.

Crowley wouldn’t comment at all, however, about how Amiri got to the United States. Most reports have Amiri as disappearing while on a June 2009 pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Crowley did say that Amiri traveled to the Pakistani Embassy on his own and was supposed to have left for Iran yesterday, but was not able to get his travel itinerary firmed up in time. Beyond that, State is still not saying what he has been doing here and what Foggy Bottom’s involvement has been.

"He’s been here for some time. I’m not going to specify how long," Crowley said.

Crowley still hasn’t lost his sense of humor about the case. When asked if Amiri had given up any information on Iran’s nuclear program, he joked, "He has not given me any information."

He also stopped short of flatly denying Amiri’s allegations that he was tortured while in American custody. "I have no information to suggest that he has been mistreated while he’s been in the United States," Crowley said.

Amiri is reportedly claiming he was released by his alleged American captors after his YouTube videos surfaced. "Since the release of the videos, the Americans have come out as the losers," Amiri was quoted as saying.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin