TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian-American released after 30 months in a Tehran jail said he was duped into handing money to a U.S.-based group considered a terrorist organization in Iran and that he might now sue them.
Reza Taghavi was held in May 2008 for giving $200 to Tondar, (Thunder), a group which aims to overthrow the Islamic Republic and restore the Iranian monarchy that was ousted in the 1979 revolution, according to its website.
Taghavi, a 71-year-old retired businessman, said he was asked by someone to hand over the money without knowing it was going to an outlawed militant group. He did not identify who had asked him.
The Iranian authorities eventually agreed, releasing him on Saturday.
“I never heard the name of that group before in my life,” he told Reuters TV in an interview in his home in northern Tehran.
“They (judicial authorities) released me to see what I‘m going to do against those people that they gave me the money for,” he said. “I am going to file a suit against them.”
Iran does not recognize dual nationality and Taghavi said he needed to apply to the Swiss embassy, which handles U.S. interests in Iran, for travel documents and that he hoped to fly to the United States on Thursday.
The incident is the latest personal story to highlight the poor relations between Tehran and Washington, which cut diplomatic ties shortly after Iran’s Islamic revolution and are at odds over many issues, not least Iran’s nuclear program.
In January, Iran called on the United States to extradite members of a Tondar, which it called a “terrorist group.”
State-run Press TV said Tondar was based in Los Angeles, which has a large Iranian-American population.
The report said Taghavi had handed the money to the perpetrators of a mosque bombing in the Iranian city of Shiraz in 2008 that killed 14 people.
He was held in Evin jail in Tehran, where two other Americans have been detained since their arrest in on July 31, 2009, near the Iraq border. They are accused of spying but their families say they were hiking in the region and may have strayed over the unmarked border by accident.
The Gulf state of Oman said this month it was negotiating with Iran for their release. Their female companion, Sarah Shourd, was release on $500,000 bail last month and returned to the United States but Iranian officials say the two men will be tried.
The detentions have further strained relations with Washington, which wants Iran to return to stalled talks about its nuclear program. Many countries fear Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb. Tehran denies this.
Addressing a large crowd on Sunday on one of his regular trips to the provinces, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the West had no choice but to talk to Iran, as other means -- such as sanctions or military threats -- would not work.
“From the beginning we said holding talks is the only solution. You do not have any other choice and the other options are all blocked. You know it very well,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
“But the way we will hold talks with those who have friendly intentions will differ from (talks with) those who have hostile intentions.”
Both sides said they are willing to talk, but no date has been set yet. Iran’s said talks may be held in late October or early November.
Ahmadinejad, who says foreign sanctions have had no impact on the country, has set certain conditions which have yet to be addressed by the other countries involved.
Washington led a push for tighter U.N. sanctions on Iran, agreed in June. Ahmadinejad has said the sanctions will have no effect but many politicians and business people say they have started to hurt Iran’s economy.
Writing by Robin Pomeroy