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World

Iranian-American Businessman Reportedly Arrested In Iran

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're trying to understand this morning why an American businessman has reportedly been arrested in Iran. His name is Siamak Namazi. He works for an oil company and lives in the United Arab Emirates. He holds Iranian citizenship and is believed to have been arrested earlier this month while visiting relatives. Namazi's the fourth Iranian-American now being held in Iranian jail. Farnaz Fassihi is a senior writer for the Wall Street Journal whose reporting about this appears in this morning's paper. Farnaz, good morning.

FARNAZ FASSIHI: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what do we know, at this point, about this businessman, why he was arrested and where he is at this point?

FASSIHI: We know that he was arrested from his family home in Tehran by the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guard. We know he is in the notorious Evin Prison. We do not know why - as in, officially we don't know why - because the Iranian government has not acknowledged his arrest or commented publicly about it. But, you know, we can only guess that this has to do with the sort of internal factional wars that's going on now between the ultraconservatives, who are opposed to opening up Iran, and the sort of more moderate government of President Rouhani, who want to track outside investors and businesses.

INSKEEP: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that because isn't this a time when President Hassan Rouhani has - has been, as you said, encouraging outside investment? I mean, in the wake of the big nuclear deal with the United States, this seems like a contradiction, right?

FASSIHI: Absolutely. This really sort of undermines President Rouhani's message that Iran has changed. I mean, one of his central policies was to court Iranian - Iranians outside of Iran - particularly the Iranian-Americans - to go back to Iran to sort of be the leader of investments - in foreign investments. And this has really put a chill in the business community, both inside and outside of Iran.

INSKEEP: Well, I think about The Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been detained in Iran for some time. I mean, now, what we see - you know, this man - this businessman who seemed to be doing what President Rouhani was asking - arrested. I mean, is this suggesting that Hassan Rouhani is losing his internal struggle in Iran?

FASSIHI: Well, I think it definitely suggests that there is a bigger internal struggle than we think in the aftermath of the nuclear deal. I think that Mr. Rouhani does not have the same, perhaps, power or will to change things internally as he did to sort of fix Iran's image abroad or lift the sanctions in the nuclear negotiations.

INSKEEP: You know, I have to ask you, in your reporting, that the family of this businessman, Siamak Namazi, was hoping to keep his name out of the public...

FASSIHI: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Eye. I'm wondering, what was the decision by your paper, The Wall Street Journal, to...

FASSIHI: We talked to the family. They knew that we were running story, and this story was reported - we were not the first to report it. It was in Bloomberg a few days ago. It was in - all over Iranian media and in Al Arabiya. So Siamak's name has been out there for quite a while - a couple of week - I would say at least a week.

INSKEEP: And let me just finish by asking, you yourself are Iranian-American and...

FASSIHI: Right.

INSKEEP: ...And I know you were targeted when you were in - in Iran reporting for The Journal in 2009 and again this past summer, right? I mean, this is something you have experience with.

FASSIHI: Right, I have not been arrested in Iran, but I have had threats and I've been interrogated. And this past summer, there was a smear campaign against me. Unfortunately, targeting dual-national Iranians - particularly the Iranian-Americans - happens often.

INSKEEP: And would you go back to Iran now to report?

FASSIHI: They have told me that I can't go back to Iran to report. They've said this openly.

INSKEEP: All right, Farnaz Fassihi is a senior writer for The Wall Street Journal. Her reporting this morning says that an Iranian-American businessman has been arrested this month and is currently being detained in Iran. Farnaz, thanks very much.

FASSIHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.