Monday, April 24, 2006

[12:58 p.m.]

ATHENS — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern today about the case of a high-ranking Iranian official who arrived last month in the United States on a green card and said the Bush administration “will take proper action” once it has established the facts of the case.

Mohammad Nahavandian, an economics and technology aide to Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has been a legal permanent resident of the United States since 1993 and did not give up that status when he joined the Iranian government last year.

“We were very concerned when we heard about it. We are going to try to make sure that we understand the facts and the legal basis, and then we’ll take proper action,” Miss Rice told reporters on her plane en route to Athens.

“We have to be true to both the promise of what it means to have a green-card status and the policy considerations of this rather anomalous position, in which you have someone with [whom] the United States does not actually have diplomatic relations, that is a diplomat, a very high-ranking diplomat, in fact inside the United States,” she said.

Mr. Nahavandian arrived from Canada on March 25 on a flight from Ottawa to Philadelphia, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said.

He tried to leave the United States on April 11 and drove to the Canadian border at Niagara Falls but was turned back because he was carrying “prescription medication” that the Canadian authorities “did not consider admissible,” the DHS official said.

That same day, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Tehran had successfully enriched enough uranium to produce nuclear fuel. It was not clear whether Mr. Nahavandian’s attempt to depart had anything to do with that announcement.

He was readmitted into the United States because his green card was legal and he raised no suspicion, the DHS official said. He did not have to show his Iranian passport when entering from Canada, and in both cases, the immigration officers had no indication that he was a foreign government official.

Immigrations records show Mr. Nahavandian first arrived in the United States in 1989, when he came on a tourist visa, the DHS official said. He was issued a student visa in 1991 to attend George Washington University and became a permanent resident two years later. His green card was renewed in early 2004.

The administration is looking into Mr. Nahavandian’s recent arrival and departure records to establish whether he has abided by the rule that permanent residents must not be out of the country for more than 180 days in order to maintain their status.

However, even if he has fulfilled that requirement, he still can lose his green card because of his employment with the Iranian government, which Washington has blacklisted as a state sponsor of terrorism, administration officials said.

“It’s going to take a little time to sort it out,” Miss Rice said yesterday. “This is not something that anybody foresaw.”

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