WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday denied that it was to blame for the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist by a car bomb, after Tehran said Washington and Israel were responsible for the attack.
“I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters when asked about Iranian allegations over the attack.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor added: “The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this. We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like this.”
Clinton spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the State Department condemned “any assassination or attack on an innocent person and we express our sympathies to the family.”
The death of the scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, deputy director at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, deepened a war of words between Washington and Tehran already raging over a nuclear showdown and maritime tensions.
Iranian officials noted the assassination method — two men on a motorbike attaching a magnetic bomb to the target’s vehicle — was similar to that used in the killings of three other scientists over the past two years.
Roshan, 32, died immediately in the blast outside a university campus in east Tehran. His driver and bodyguard also later died of his wounds, the Fars and ILNA news agencies reported. A third occupant of the Peugeot 405 was wounded and in hospital.
The scientist specialized in making polymeric membranes to separate gas. Iran uses a gas separation method to enrich its uranium.
In Israel, a senior official said he was unaware who carried out what he called an act of “revenge.”
“I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear,” military spokesman Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai wrote on his official Facebook page.
Three other Iranian scientists were killed in 2010 and 2011 when their cars blew up in similar circumstances. At least two of the scientists had also been working on nuclear activities.
Those attacks were viewed by Iranian officials as assassination operations carried out by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, possibly with help from US counterparts.
Western nations, the United States at the fore, are steadily ratcheting up sanctions on Iran with the aim of fracturing its oil-dependent economy in a bid to halt its nuclear program.
Iran has responded by saying it could easily close the Strait of Hormuz — a chokepoint for 20 percent of the world’s oil at the entrance to the Gulf — if it is attacked or if sanctions halt its petroleum exports.
“I think it’s important to recognize very clearly that the provocative rhetoric coming out of Iran in the last week has been quite concerning,” Clinton added during a press conference.
“It has caused us and many of our partners in the region and around the world to reach out to the Iranians, to impress upon them the provocative and dangerous nature of the threats to close the Straits of Hormuz,” she said.
“This is an international waterway. The United States and others are committed to keeping it open. It’s part of the lifeline that keeps oil and gas moving around the world,” the chief US diplomat said.
“And it’s also important to speak as clearly as we can to the Iranians about the dangers of this kind of provocation,” she said.
US-Iranian tensions have also worsened following an Iranian court’s death sentence this week on an American-Iranian former Marine it found guilty of spying for the CIA, and Iran’s capture last month of what it said was a CIA drone.