In the news

January 12, 2012

Clinton denies U.S. involvement in death of Iranian nuclear scientist

Published in Published in The Washington Times.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton“categorically” denied Wednesday any U.S. involvement in the car bombing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, the fourth in a series of attacks over the past two years apparently aimed at disrupting Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Iranian state media Wednesday reported that Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a university professor believed to be a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was killed by an explosion after two men on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car.

Iran, which has claimed only peaceful purposes for its nuclear program, has blamed similar attacks over the past two years on Israel and the United States.

Tehran’s deputy governor, Safarali Baratloo, was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying the bomb that killed Mr. Roshan, 32, was “the same as the one’s previously used.” He framed the bombing as the work of “Zionists,” a reference to Israel.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

According to wire reports, Israeli military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai posted on his official Facebook page: “I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear.”

Tensions between Tehran and Washington reached new heights Monday, when the Islamic republic issued a death sentence to a former U.S. Marine it accuses of spying for the CIA.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, is in Latin America on a tour that has triggered concerns that his country is trying to grow strategic alliances to subvert U.S.-led sanctions against its energy sector and nuclear program.

Analysts in Washington weighed in on speculation over whether the U.S.,Israel, another foreign actor or forces from within Iran itself are responsible for the bombing.

Some were quick to point to Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

“The starting assumption would be that Mossad did this,” said Patrick Clawson, who directs the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The attack’s sophisticated hallmark, a bomb with magnets, suggests it was “carried out by a very professional foreign intelligence service,” Mr. Clawson said. “By a process of elimination, we know that the Mossad has done assassinations and assassination attempts.”

He added that the U.S. could have provided information to the Israelis, such as the names of key players in the Iranian nuclear program, where they live and routes they take driving to work, but that question of “whether the U.S. is involved is not necessarily a black-or-white question, there could be shades of gray.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategist at the Center for Strategic International Studies, said if Israel had conducted such bombings, “the United States is not going to want to know, be consulted or in any way appear to be approving it.”

“If it was sanctioned by the U.S. government, it would have to go through the presidency and the Congress for approval, and I think it’s very doubtful the U.S. would do this because the benefits - unless you could get the absolute top people - of getting low-level and medium-level scientists would be negligible,” Mr. Cordesman said.

Nick Dowling, a former National Security Council official and president of the security consulting firm IDS International, said “there is too much bluster and tension in the U.S.-Iran relationship at this point to take anything at face value.”

Iran is fast to point fingers at Israel and the United States, but they have not produced any evidence,” Mr. Dowling said. “U.S. and Israeli leaders deny involvement. Iran certainly wants to play the victim here and portray Israel and the U.S. as provocateurs.”

The bluster was on display last week when Iranthreatened to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-sixth of the world’s oil is transported.

“The provocative rhetoric coming out of Iran in the last week has been quite concerning,” Mrs. Clinton said Wednesday, adding that the Strait of Hormuz is an “international waterway.”

“The United States and others are committed to keeping it open,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton also said that “there has to be an understanding betweenIran, its neighbors and the international community that finds a way forward for it to end its provocative behavior, end its search for nuclear weapons and rejoin the international community and be a productive member of it.”

Yesterday’s bombing was the fourth of its kind over the past two years and very nearly coincided the two-year anniversary of a car bombing that killed Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a physics professor at Tehran University, on Jan. 12, 2010.

Majid Shahriari, a nuclear engineer for the Atomic Energy Commission, was killed in a car-bomb attack on Nov. 29, 2010. Fereydoun Abbasi, a nuclear scientist at Shahid Beheshti University, was wounded in a similar attack the same day.

Darioush Rezai-Nejad, a nuclear scientist at K.N. Toosi University of Technology in Tehran, was fatally shot in Tehran on July 23, 2011. His wife also was killed in that attack.