Iran suggests U.S. intelligence operative may have taken advantage of detained reporter

(Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday suggested that an intelligence operative, possibly linked to the U.S. government, may have taken advantage of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who has been charged in Iran with espionage and other crimes.

“The fact is there are people who take advantage of the needs of some people who try to get a visa to come to the United States or for their wives to come to the United States and make demands that are illegal and dangerous and damaging to the professionalism of a journalist,” said Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif participated in a discussion hosted by New York University’s Center on International Cooperation and the think tank New America and moderated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Rezaian was detained last year in Iran. Among the charges, he is accused of “collaborating with hostile governments” and “propaganda against the establishment,” according to a statement from Rezaian’s attorney, Leilah Ahsan, the Washington Post reported last week.

Iran’s top diplomat, who is in New York to attend a U.N. meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said the charges were grave.

“Unfortunately your friend and my friend, Jason, is accused of a very serious crime,” he said. “And I hope he is cleared. But he will have to face court. He is an Iranian citizen. It is unfortunate that some low-level operative tried to take advantage of him.”

Zarif said he could not provide further details as the case was still pending. His comments appeared to suggest that a swift release for Rezaian was not likely.

The Washington Post declined to comment on Zarif’s comments but senior editors have previously described the charges as ludicrous.

Rezaian, an Iranian-American dual citizen from Marin County, California, had been the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tehran since 2012, according to the newspaper.

He was detained about nine months ago on what U.S. President Barack Obama has called “vague charges.” Obama, who is in the process of negotiating a tricky nuclear deal with Iran, last month called on Iran to immediately release detained Americans there, including Rezaian.

In the indictment, Iranian authorities said Rezaian had written to Obama and called it an example of contacting a “hostile government,” the Washington Post said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based press freedom watchdog, has voiced alarm at the charges against Rezaian and urged Iranian authorities to drop the charges and release him.

By Reuters