Released American visits Iran blast victims

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2010 2:20 PM
Released American visits Iran blast victims

An Iranian-American businessman freed after more than two years in an Iranian prison met on Monday with survivors of a deadly 2008 mosque bombing, fulfilling a condition of his release in a scripted event that could carry propaganda value at home.

The 71-year-old Reza Taghavi had been arrested by Iranian authorities claiming he was connected to the bombing in the southern city of Shiraz, which killed 14 people, but he denied any role. Iranian authorities did not explain their demand that he pay homage to victims of the attack, but it would fit neatly into possible Iranian attempts to squeeze multiple messages from Taghavi's release on Saturday after 29 months in custody.

Taghavi visited the Shiraz home of Alireza Bonyani, who lost his left arm in the blast.

"I just want to pursue my right and have the one who has done this to me punished for his action," Bonyani said, though he did not appear to accuse Taghavi for the bombing.

Speaking in English, Taghavi expressed sadness over the bombing, but accepted no responsibility.

"On my part, I am really sorry for what happened to you," he said. "I hope someday we will see each other nice and well."

The two men shook hands and kissed each other on the cheeks, in footage by Associated Press Television News.

Taghavi also met Monday with a father who lost two children in the blast.

The choreographed meetings could score political points at home for the ruling clerics at a time when international sanctions are hurting Iran's economy.

The European Union has said talks with the United States and other world powers about Iran's nuclear program could start as early as next month.

But Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said talks can 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 seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says it seeks peaceful energy-producing reactors.

Taghavi _ who regularly visits Iran to conduct business and see family _ was jailed for passing $200 to someone suspected of links to a rebel group known as Tondar, which seeks to topple the Islamic system and was implicated in the mosque bombing in Shiraz, about 550 miles (885 kilometers) south of the capital.

Taghavi was never formally charged and denies knowingly supporting the faction. He said his friend took advantage of his trust and that he plans to sue him.

In 2009, Iran hanged three men convicted of a role in the bombing.

Taghavi's attorney _ former U.S. diplomat Pierre Prosper _ held five rounds of talks with Iranian envoys who were eventually convinced Taghavi does not pose a threat to Iran.

He plans to return to his home in southern California on Thursday via London.

Taghavi's detention drew 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.

The others, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, remain jailed and face possible trial on espionage charges. Shourd and the families of the other Americans deny they committed any crime. They say that if the three did cross the border with Iran, they did so unwittingly.

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Associated Press writer Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.