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US demands 'credible answers' from Iran on Robert Levinson's abduction

The Biden administration pledged to hold Iran accountable for the former FBI agent's disappearance 14 years ago.

The United States will “continue to demand answers” from Iran about the abduction, detention and probable death of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday marking the anniversary of his disappearance.  

“After 14 years and repeated, persistent efforts to secure Iran’s cooperation in locating Mr. Levinson, we are still without answers,” Psaki said. “Nevertheless, we will continue to demand answers and to hold Iran accountable.”

Levinson disappeared on Iran’s remote Kish Island in March 2007 during an unauthorized CIA mission that the US government for years claimed was a private business trip. He hasn’t been seen or heard from publicly since, and the Iranian government denied holding the veteran agent in its custody. 

In March 2020, the Levinson family announced in a statement that the US government believed Levinson had died sometime before the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran. His remains have not been recovered. 

This would make Levinson the longest-held American hostage in history. In what marked the first public actions the US government had taken against Tehran over his abduction, the Trump administration in December sanctioned two high-ranking Iranian intelligence officials. US officials said all available evidence points to Levinson’s likely death in Iranian custody. 

“This case is not closed,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We call on the Iranian government to provide credible answers to what happened to Bob Levinson and to immediately and safely release all US citizens who are unjustly held captive in Iran.”

“The abhorrent act of unjust detentions for political gain must cease immediately,” Blinken said. 

Iran, which has a history of jailing foreigners and dual citizens and using them as bargaining chips, is currently detaining a number of Americans on trumped-up espionage charges. The families have urged the Biden administration to make their loved ones’ release a precondition of any nuclear talks with Iran. 

The Iranian-Americans held by Tehran include conservationist Morad Tahbaz and businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, former UNICEF official Baquer Namazi. In December, a little over a month before Joe Biden’s inauguration as president, Iranian authorities arrested dual citizen businessman Emad Sharghi. 

Last month, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States is communicating with Iran over the detention of American citizens. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said some messages between the two governments were exchanged via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in Iran.

Navy veteran Michael White was freed from Iranian custody in June after nearly two years in detention.

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