Reuters: The United States has sought information for the third time in a month from Tehran about the whereabouts of a missing former FBI agent believed to be in Iran, the State Department said on Monday.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has sought information for the third time in a month from Tehran about the whereabouts of a missing former FBI agent believed to be in Iran, the State Department said on Monday.
Florida resident and ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing while on a visit to the Gulf island of Kish in Iran early in March. U.S. officials have said they believe he is in Iran but have no credible information about his exact whereabouts. It is not clear why Levinson visited Iran.
“Over the weekend, we did send another message via the Swiss to the Iranian government asking for any answer as to what they know of his whereabouts,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
The United States first sought information about Levinson on March 12, making its request through Switzerland because Washington has not had diplomatic relations with Tehran since 1980, when it cut ties after the Iranian revolution.
When that inquiry proved fruitless, the United States sent a formal letter about two weeks ago, also via Switzerland.
“We have gone back to the Iranians after what we thought was a sufficient interval for them to conduct an investigation and asked them to give us an answer,” he added, saying the United States believed Levinson had traveled to Iran and had no reason to believe he had left.
“We would have hoped that the formal request … would have been sufficient to launch a more formal investigation,” he told reporters later.
Details surrounding Levinson’s visit to Kish island are sketchy, but McCormack said the United States was “relatively confident” the former FBI agent did not leave Iran.
Before going to Kish, Levinson visited the U.S. consulate in Dubai, said McCormack, adding he had no details about the consulate meeting or why the former FBI agent went there before he left for Kish. U.S. citizens do not require a visa for Kish but one is needed for mainland Iran.
“I don’t know the extent of their conversations,” he said of the discussions Levinson had with Dubai consular officials.
Diplomats fear the case of Levinson could mark a new twist in apparent tit-for-tat detentions involving the United States, Britain and Iran, which began with the detention by U.S. forces in Iraq of five Iranians in January and the capture of 15 British sailors by Iran who were freed earlier this month.
There are also heightened tensions between the two countries over Iran’s nuclear program and Washington has spearheaded U.N. sanctions against Tehran.
“Regardless of whatever political differences may exist between the United States and the Iranian government, we wouldn’t think that those differences would in any way impinge upon a good-faith search for an American citizen who may be on the territory of Iran,” said McCormack when asked whether he thought Iran was stonewalling on the case.
The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran in April 1980, five months after Iranian students occupied the American Embassy in Tehran and took U.S. citizens hostage. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days.