Mystery Surrounds Disappearance of Former Iranian Defense Minister

Iranian officials announced Tuesday that the country's former deputy defense minister had vanished while on a private trip to neighboring Turkey.

The country's top police chief accused Western intelligence services of possibly kidnapping the official.

Ali Reza Asghari, a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards and a former deputy defense minister, had arrived in Turkey on a private visit from Damascus, Syria, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Tuesday.

Iran's top police chief, Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam, said Iran was investigating the fate of Asghari through the Turkish police.

"It is likely that Asghari has been abducted by the Western intelligence services," IRNA quoted the Iranian police general as saying. The general did not elaborate.

In Turkey, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday it was investigating the matter, but would not confirm or deny that Asghari had disappeared or been kidnapped.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry had asked the Interior Ministry to investigate following a report from the Iranian Embassy in Ankara.

Meanwhile, speculation about Asghari's fate swept through the Middle East and Europe.

The London-based Arab daily newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported on Tuesday, quoting high-profile sources, that Asghari may have sought asylum in the U.S. The newspaper reported that the Iranian official had left for the U.S. shortly after arriving in the Turkish capital.

The Al-Sharq al-Awsat report quoted anonymous sources and was not confirmed.

Other reports from the Arab media suggested that the Mossad -- the Israeli intelligence service -- and the CIA were behind Asghari's disappearance. Israel has denied involvement in the general's disappearance, but The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London speculated on Monday that Asghari could have been abducted by Israel to shed light on the whereabouts of missing Israeli Air Force pilot Ron Arad, who Israel has claimed might have been held at one point by Iran.

Fearing that Iran might try to kidnap senior Israeli officials who are traveling abroad, Israeli security officials were evaluating and adjusting security arrangements for certain officials visiting non-Western and Muslim countries, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post newspaper.

The Shin Bet, the agency in charge of providing security for Israeli officials, said: "We formulate our security arrangements according to developments in the field and intelligence information."

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted Monday as saying that Iran was "taking all the necessary steps" to solve the case of the missing general.

"A director-general from the (foreign) ministry has traveled to Turkey (to follow up the case). We have asked Turkey to investigate Asghari's case," said Mottaki.

Reportedly, Asghari was involved in a deal to transfer Arad to the Iranians in exchange for a large sum of money.

The Telegraph reported that Hezbollah guerillas might have passed Arad up the chain of command to their Iranian handlers.

The Associated Press, Jerusalem Post, Daily Telegraph and Al-Sharq al-Awsat contributed to this report.