Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security said yesterday that there was no reason to deny an Iranian official entry into the United States last month because he was a legal permanent U.S. resident, but his status was being reviewed for suspected violations that could result in revoking his green card.

Department officials declined to specify what kind of breaches they were examining to avoid “prejudging” the outcome of their investigation or to unnecessarily accuse the official, Mohammad Nahavandian, an economics and technology aide to Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

“We are reviewing his status to ensure that he is complying with the terms of his immigration benefits,” said Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke. “This administration takes very seriously benefits fraud, and violators have been punished before.”

Mr. Knocke said that the Citizenship and Immigration Service, which is part of Homeland Security, “recently introduced a new office to ensure the integrity of our immigration system.”

“Immigration benefits in our country are a privilege,” he said.

More facts emerged yesterday about Mr. Nahavandian’s current visit to the United States. A Homeland Security official who asked not to be named said Mr. Nahavandian arrived on a flight from Ottawa to Philadelphia on March 25, two weeks earlier than initial reports had suggested.

He was processed by a U.S. immigration officer at the Ottawa airport to whom he presented his green card, which was issued in 1993 and renewed in early 2004. There was no information in his file indicating anything illegal or suspicious, the official said.

Another Homeland Security official said Mr. Nahavandian tried to re-enter Canada at Niagara Falls on April 11 but was turned back because he was carrying “prescription medication” that the Canadian authorities “did not consider admissible.”

The officials did not provide that information until yesterday evening, and it was too late to reach Canadian diplomats in Washington with knowledge of Mr. Nahavandian’s case.

The second official said there were no records that Mr. Nahavandian, 51, has left the United States, although he noted that such records would exist only if he departed by air.

Ali Moshir, a 49-year-old Iranian-born naturalized U.S. citizen and a longtime friend of Mr. Nahavandian’s, said he saw Mr. Nahavandian at the Islamic Education Center in Potomac a couple of weeks ago for the first time in about three years.

He invited Mr. Nahavandian to dinner at his house in McLean two days later. They talked about Iran’s economy and reminisced about their days as graduate students at the George Washington University, where they had first met, Mr. Moshir recalled.

He described Mr. Nahavandian, who did not mention that he now works for the Iranian government, as “quiet” and “hard to read.” He said they were never close.

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