Iran General NewsIran rejects search for traces of ex-FBI agent, U.S....

Iran rejects search for traces of ex-FBI agent, U.S. says

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Washington Post: Iran has blocked a request from the United States to allow Swiss diplomats to go to Kish Island to look for the luggage or other traces of missing former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson, according to U.S. officials and the Levinson family. Washington Post

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; Page A14

Iran has blocked a request from the United States to allow Swiss diplomats to go to Kish Island to look for the luggage or other traces of missing former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson, according to U.S. officials and the Levinson family.

Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian duty-free zone that does not require visas, on a business trip six months ago and disappeared. Iran’s Foreign Ministry told the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests there, that it had closed its own investigation into the Levinson case, the sources said.

U.S. officials and the Levinson family said they believe that the former federal agent, who retired more than a decade ago, is in Iran. The family is particularly interested in finding Levinson’s missing duffle bag, his wife, Christine, said in an interview. Levinson’s wife and son are trying to go to Tehran and Kish Island to search for him, but the Iranian mission to the United Nations has yet to return their calls about visas, she said.

Iran yesterday returned the passport of American journalist Parnaz Azima, who had been detained since she arrived in Tehran on Jan. 25 to visit her ill mother, her family said. Azima, who was charged with spreading propaganda against Iran’s government, is expected to fly from Iran to Washington this week.

“She is free to leave the country if she wants,” said human rights activist and Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, who is Azima’s lawyer. Azima is a correspondent for Radio Farda, the Persian-language service of U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Her release came a day after Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari was allowed to leave Iran after eight months of detention and imprisonment. The two moves might indicate Tehran’s interest in easing the crisis over four dual American Iranian nationals whose detention has heightened tensions between the countries.

The moves also came three weeks before the trip of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. A key issue for the Security Council will be whether to impose a third round of sanctions on Iran for failing to comply with a U.N. mandate to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can be used for nuclear energy or to develop nuclear weapons.

Azima, who was based at Radio Farda’s offices in Prague, is expected to fly to Washington to see a grandchild born a week ago. “We’re extraordinarily pleased that she’s finally able to get out,” said Martin Zvaners, a Radio Farda spokesman.

Azima also needs medical attention, said Jeff Trimble, counselor to the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “She was undergoing medical treatment when she rushed to Iran to be with her mother,” he said.

An Iranian judge said yesterday that New York-based social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh will be released on bail as soon as the investigation into his case is completed, Reuters reported. Tajbakhsh was working with Iranian ministries on HIV/AIDS and other health issues. He is a consultant with George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and his wife is due to give birth in the next few weeks.

The institute said yesterday that Iran’s detention of Tajbakhsh is “unconscionable,” especially because Iranian officials had told his family that he would be released last week.

Another dual national being held is California businessman Ali Shakeri, who was picked up at the airport and detained on the same day Esfandiari was. He was in Tehran to visit his mother, who was ill and died during his visit.

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