Iran vs US: Three Iranian scientists detained in US as tensions continue to rise

Professor Masoud Soleimani and two assistants were planning to complete the final stage of their research on treating stroke patients at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. After nine months of work, however, Mr Soleimani is being controversially held in a detention centre near Atlanta. American prosecutors say the attempted transport of proteins – which reportedly count as biological material – from the US to Iran was illegal under current sanctions.

The trio could face 20 years in prison for the offence – although Professor Soleimani’s two assistants, Mahboobe Ghaedi and Maryam Jazayeri, are likely to be exempt from punishment as they live in the US.

They are currently free on bond, and will hope to face separate trials for any charges levelled against them.

Professor Soleimani’s lawyer argued that under current sanctions on Iran – which are crippling Tehran’s economy – the desired proteins would be a fifth of the price in the US.

The scientist originally planned to take advantage of Ms Jazayeri’s visit to Iran in 2016, and instructed her to bring over the material for his research.

Professor Soleimani’s former student was found out, however, and an indictment was placed under seal on the scientist.

This meant that upon Professor Soleimani’s next trip to the US – which prosecutors predicted would come in the near future – he would be arrested.

Three years later, the Iranian scientist is languishing in a cell as he is caught between rising global tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Leonard Franco, his lawyer, said in court: “His research has led to global lifesaving medical advancements in regenerating non-functional human body parts.

“I think that’s important because this is not some activity to support terrorism.

“This is an activity to heal people, to serve them, not to hurt them.”

UCLA bioengineering Professor Ali Khademhosseini, meanwhile, noted that the proteins “cannot be used for nefarious purposes such as the composition of biological, chemical, or other types of weapons.”

However, prosecutors are only concerned with the crime of sanctions violation – and blame Professor Soleimani for not following the rules outlined.

The scientist’s detention is just the latest in a series of events that intensify tensions between Iran and the US.

While curbed following the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015, sanctions were reinforced once again last May after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal.

Military conflict has threatened to accompany economic warfare as Tehran and Washington continue to trade combative rhetoric.

Following the downing of the US drone over Iranian airspace last month, Trump revealed he was just ‘minutes’ away from authorising air strikes on Iran.

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