Husband of U.S. Scholar Refutes Claim that Wife Is Spy

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 14, 2007; 3:48 PM

The husband of noted American scholar Haleh Esfandiari today angrily denied allegations made in Iran's press during the weekend that the 67-year-old grandmother was trying to foment revolution inside Iran and was spying for both the United States and Israel.

The unofficial charges were made in Tehran's Kayhan newspaper, which is closely tied to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reflects government views. The allegations against Esfandiari, who is director of the Middle East program at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars, offer the first indication of the case that Iran may be trying to craft against the Potomac resident. Although the Foreign Ministry finally confirmed her detention Sunday, no formal charges have been issued since she was imprisoned a week ago after more than four months under virtual house arrest and weeks of interrogations in Tehran.

Asked about Esfandiari's case during a weekend visit to Abu Dhabi, Ahmadinejad said, "This is within the jurisdiction of Iran's judiciary, which will provide information about the issue in due course," Iran's Web site reported today.

Esfandiari's husband Shaul Bakhash, Monday refuted the long list of allegations made in a front-page Kayhan article. Esfandiari had never been to Israel, worked with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, formed an "Iran office" for the Jewish organization, organized its conferences, worked with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, or been a Zionist, Bakhash said.

Kayhan said Esfandiari had been "one of the main elements of Mossad in driving a velvet revolution strategy in Iran." The article also said she ran "obvious intelligence missions" under her cover as a Wilson Center programming director and used her seminars to "evaluate the capacity of reformists to change the Islamic order." It also said she had formed two networks of Iranian activists in the United States and Dubai with the goal of toppling Iran's Islamic government.

Bakhash, a George Mason University professor, also denied today that he had ever worked with Mossad. "The charges against my wife Haleh and myself are sinister and also absurd and fantastical, the concoctions of men who have lost touch with reality," he said.

Bakhash said today that he had also never been a Zionist.

Esfandiari, a widely respected academic who ran a program featuring an array of views on Iran, is a Shiite Muslim. She was in Tehran visiting her ailing 93-year-old mother, who is Austrian by birth, when she was first summoned by Iran's Intelligence Ministry.

Esfandiari was imprisoned just as Iran and the United States have agreed to meet in Baghdad within the next two weeks to discuss Iraq. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, will lead the delegation.

A "Free Haleh" Web site campaign has been launched by the American Islamic Congress in conjunction with Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo, the Initiative for Inclusive Security in Washington, and the Kuwaiti Economic Society.

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