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Date:  Dec. 26, 2008
Contact: William Skane, Executive Director
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail

Statement by the U.S. National Academies on Scientific Visits to Iran

The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine have had eight years of mutually beneficial scientific cooperation with scientists in Iran. These non-governmental exchanges encouraged by both governments have involved participants from over fifty Iranian and American research and academic centers, a dozen workshops in Iran and other locations, a number of planning sessions in Iran, and individual visitors in both directions. The most recent activity was the invited visit of leading American medical scientists to Iran at the beginning of December 2008. During the visit, the scientific leadership of Iran fully supported expansion of scientific exchanges, and a number of topics for further collaboration were jointly identified.

At the end of the visit, however, three persons who identified themselves only as Iranian "security officials" detained one of our scientific staff members who had facilitated the visit and interrogated him for nine hours over two days. During this time, these persons threatened that the staff member would not be allowed to leave Iran and stated that exchange scientists were not welcome in Iran. They exhibited little knowledge of the arrangements that had been made in Iran for this visit and for previous visits. This action was a very serious breach of the understandings by which the U.S. National Academies have sponsored and encouraged scientific exchanges with Iran.

The staff member was traveling on an American passport with a valid Iranian visa issued expressly for participation in the visit. He had made frequent visits to Iran with other groups of American scientists without difficulties. He is well known at the highest levels of the Iranian scientific community, and over the years political leaders of the country have repeatedly supported his efforts.

The Academies' presidents cannot sponsor or encourage American scientists to visit Iran unless there are clear assurances that the personal safety of visiting scientists will be guaranteed and that they will be treated with dignity and respect. We have attempted to inform appropriate authorities in Iran and to obtain these assurances. While awaiting clear assurances, the Academies are prepared to continue scientific exchanges with Iranian scientists that can be arranged outside Iran due to the scientific importance of such interactions.

Except for this very serious incident involving the Academies’ staff member, American participants in these exchanges have been treated very well in Iran. Relationships with many Iranian scientists have been developed that can benefit international science and also can help establish an environment for improved relations between the peoples of both countries. It is the hope of the U.S. National Academies that clear assurances will be received soon from Iran that will permit our institution to resume scientific visits to Iran.