Tehran, Iran — An Iranian-American businessman freed after more than two years in Tehran’s main prison visited survivors of a deadly 2008 mosque bombing as a condition of his release in a scripted event Sunday that could carry propaganda value at home.
Iranian authorities did not immediately explain their demand for 71-year-old Reza Taghavi to pay homage in the southern city of Shiraz — and personally acknowledge an attack in which he denies having any connection. But it would fit neatly into possible Iranian attempts to squeeze multiple messages from Taghavi’s release on Saturday after 29 months in custody.
It can easily score political points at home for the ruling clerics at a time when international sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy.
Iran is pressing to resume talks on its nuclear program with the United States and other world powers after a yearlong standoff. The European Union’s foreign affairs and security chief, Catherine Ashton, suggested last week after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that talks could be held as early as next month.
But Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already thrown up a big hurdle — saying talks could move forward only if the West clarifies its position on Israel’s undeclared, but widely suspected, nuclear arsenal.
The U.S. and allies fear Iran could use its nuclear fuel labs to eventually produce weapons-grade material. Iran says it only seeks peaceful energy-producing reactors.
Taghavi’s attorney — former U.S. diplomat Pierre Prosper — said he purposely left American officials out of the negotiations to avoid having his client become a bargaining chip.
“Our strategy was to make sure that our dialogue with the (Iranian) government was between us and them,” said Prosper, who held five rounds of direct talks with Iranian envoys since Taghavi was jailed.
Prosper said the talks ultimately convinced authorities that his client had no links to a rebel group blamed for the Shiraz mosque bombing that killed 14 people. Taghavi says he unwittingly gave $200 to someone with ties to the group.
Taghavi’s detention drew far less international attention than the campaign to free three young Americans taken into custody last year along Iran’s border with Iraq and accused of spying. One of the three, Sarah Shourd, was granted freedom last month on $500,000 bail.
Shourd’s two companions, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, remain jailed and face possible trial on espionage charges.