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U.S. and Iran: Accusations And Denials Over Scientist's Death

Killing Similar To Others Since 2010

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Updated January 16, 2012

The explosion that killed Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in Tehran, January 11, 2012, set off a war of words, suspicion, and accusations between Iran, Israel, and the United States. Here is a rundown of events.

Death of Ahmadi-Roshan

Ahmadi-Roshan, 32, died after two men on a motorcycle rode by and slapped a magnetic bomb to the side of the Peugot he was about to drive to work. Ahmadi-Roshan was a scientist at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

The attack was similar to others against Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years. Those include:

  • Massoud Ali Mohammadi, mortally wounded by shrapnel from a bomb delivered by a motorcycle, January 2010.
  • Majin Shahriari, killed by magnetized bomb delivered by motorcycle, October 2010.
  • Darush Rezaei-Nejad, killed by shots from passing motorcycle, July 2011.
  • Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, survived a similar attack.

Political Context of Ahmadi-Roshan's Death

Ahmadi-Roshan died amid swirling east-west political rhetoric over Iran's nuclear program. Iran has maintained that, while it has a nuclear power program, it is only for peaceful purposes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in early January, however, that Iran has achieved 20% purity in enriched uranium at an underground plant near Qom. Iran confirmed that report.

The United States and its western allies maintain that purity levels of 20% or greater are unnecessary in anything other than a nuclear program. Purity levels are also easier to achieve after reaching 20%.

The United States began tightening sanctions on Iranian exports of oil in 2011, a measure designed to deprive Iran's nuclear program of funding. American allies also followed suit.

The U.S. has had some type of sanction in place against Iran for most of the last thirty years, however they have had little effect. The U.S. broke formal relations with Iran in 1980 during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

Evidence suggests that the current round of sanctions is taking a toll on the Iranian economy. Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to international usage if the U.S. Navy interfered with Iranian naval war-games in the region in early 2012. The threat is also aimed at forcing the international community into easing the sanctions.

Accusations and Denials

Iran wasted little time blaming the United States and Israel for Ahmadi-Roshan's death, as well as the other attacks. Time magazine also reported that western intelligence sources had confirmed Ahmadi-Roshad was killed by an Israeli Mossad operation. Mossad is the Israeli equivalent of the American CIA.

In the United States, the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense all denied any American involvement in the scientist's death. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "categorically" denied U.S. involvement.

"We had nothing to do with it," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "This has been expressed by officials at a variety of levels of the U.S. government." Carney said, however, he could not speak for other countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama talked with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day after Ahmadi-Roshad's death about "recent Iran-related developments," a White House "readout" of the conversation said. Specifics of the conversation -- which would presumably have included the bombing -- were unavailable.

Meanwhile, Russia seems to believe that Israel had a part in the killing. The BBC reported that the Kremlin Security Council is suggesting Israel is "pushing the Americans" toward war in Iran. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said "Additional sanctions against Iran, as well as potentially any military strikes against it, will unquestionably be perceived by the international community as an attempt at changing the regime in Iran."

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