THE extradition of a former university academic accused of plotting to smuggle military equipment to Iran was delayed for political reasons, a leaked secret cable claims.

A US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks suggests the UK Government put the extradition of Nosratollah Tajik on hold to protect sensitive nuclear talks with Iran.

The claim appears at odds with ministerial statements given to the House of Commons four months after the cable was sent, saying the extradition was a judicial process and that the sole issue to be considered was whether it would breach Mr Tajik’s human rights.

Mr Tajik, the Iranian ambassador to Jordan from 1999 to 2003, was arrested at his home in Coxhoe, County Durham, in October 2006 after an undercover sting operation carried out by US agents posing as arms dealers.

The US Government applied to extradite Mr Tajik, who formerly taught at Durham University’s Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, on allegations he had attempted to buy military night-vision goggles for illegal export to Iran.

Mr Tajik’s lawyers denied he had any connections to terrorists and said US agents were running amok in Britain, inciting people to break the law.

By October 2008, they had exhausted all legal avenues open to fight his extradition but, with Mr Tajik suffering from heart problems, they said he was too ill to be removed from the country.

Successive Home Secretaries Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson and Theresa May have not approved his extradition and he remains on bail.

However, it has emerged the delay may have been influenced by political factors.

The controversial cable was prepared for Washington by the US Embassy in London on October 6, 2009, ahead of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to London for talks with then Prime Minister Gordon Brown to highlight issues likely to arise during discussions.

Under a section on Iran, the memo says: “UK officials may also raise the issue of Nosratollah Tajik, former Iranian ambassador to Jordan, currently under arrest in the UK and awaiting extradition to the US on charges of procuring restricted military items (night-vision goggles) for the Iranian government.

“Tajik has exhausted all judicial appeals in the UK and all that stands in the way of the extradition is approval by the Home Secretary.

“Before approving the extradition, the UK wants to be sure the timing is right and will not interfere with our joint efforts through the P5+1 to engage with Iran.”

The final sentence refers to high-level diplomatic talks between China, Russia, the UK, US, France and Germany and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in London said: “We do not comment on the substance of any leaked classified document and, furthermore, we are unable to comment on ongoing judicial cases.”

A Home Office spokesman said it did not comment on leaked documents. A Foreign Office spokeswoman condemned the unauthorised release of classified information, saying the leaks and their publication were damaging to national security in Britain and elsewhere.

When visited by The Northern Echo at his home yesterday, Mr Tajik declined to comment.

His lawyers, Great James Street Chambers, in London, did not respond to The Northern Echo’s request for a statement.