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Iran calls for release of former Phoenix nuclear-plant engineer

The Iranian government is calling for the release of a former Phoenix nuclear engineer arrested for taking software from Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station to Iran.

Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday sent a letter to U.S. officials asking for details about the arrest of Mohammad Alavi, 49, who is being held without bail at a federal detention facility in Arizona.

The minister demanded Alavi’s immediate release in the letter sent to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which responds to American interests in the country.

Officials with the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Alavi, an Iranian native who lived in the United States as a naturalized citizen for 30 years, worked as an engineer for 16 years at Palo Verde, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant, about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

In August, Alavi resigned from his post at Palo Verde and moved to Tehran. He was arrested April 8 as he stepped off a plane in Los Angeles. He had returned to the United States with his wife for the birth of their first child.

Alavi has been charged with a single count of violating a trade embargo with Iran, which carries a maximum penalty of 24 months in prison. Trial is set for July 3.

Authorities say when Alavi left for Iran, he took a laptop computer containing diagrams, schematics and details of the power plant.

According to Arizona Public Service Co., which operates the nuclear plant, the software was not classified and poses no threat to the plant’s security. It can’t be used to access plant workings or operations.

According to court records, Alavi told federal agents that he took the software to show off to relatives and a business associate. There is no evidence the software played a part in Alavi’s move to Iran or that it was connected to his new job with a company reselling electric motors manufactured in Serbia.

Alavi told the FBI that the software was still on a laptop in a closet at his mother’s house in Tehran.

In the letter demanding Alavi’s release, Iran’s foreign minister cited the Vienna convention and called for “clarification” of Alavi’s situation.

A report about the letter is the top posting on the English-language Web site of the Iranian Republic News Agency, the government’s official news outlet.

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