Days after completing nuclear talks with Iran and striking a deal on uranium enrichment and sanctions, the Obama administration has asked the Islamic Republic to release several American hostages.
Criticized for not bringing up the matter during the negotiations, the White House is now asking for the release of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, and former U.S. marine Amir Hekmati. All these men are currently imprisoned in Iran. Both Levinson and Hekmati face “false espionage” charges, the administration says. Levinson went missing in 2007, and a $1 million reward is offered for information that would lead to his safe return to the United States.
“It’s our view that all of these Americans should have the opportunity to come home,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Los Angeles on Tuesday. “The United States government has made a respectful request of the Iranian regime during this holiday season to consider on humanitarian grounds releasing these three Americansor at least releasing the two Americans we know are detained and locating the whereabouts of the third, Mr. Levinson,” Earnest said.
When asked on Tuesday afternoon by a reporter at the State Department’s daily press briefing if Levinson was ever talked about during Secretary of State’s John Kerry’s discussions with Iran, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki responded:
Well, let me first reiterate–I know the White House put out a statement, but certainly this is an issue that many in this building are, of course, very committed to.
As was noted in the [White House] statement, on March 9, 2007, Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip. Today, he becomes one of the longest-held Americans in history. As we approach the upcoming holiday season, we also want to reiterate the commitment of the State Department, the United States Government, to locating Mr. Levinson and bringing him home safely to his family, friends, and loved ones.
The P5+1 talks focused exclusively on nuclear issues, but we have raised–repeatedly raised–his case and the cases of other detained American citizens, including Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini in our bilateral discussions with Iran, including President Obama’s phone call with President Rouhani in September, so as recently as then, and we will continue to do so.
When pressed further if Levinson’s detainment was ever brought up during the talks in Geneva, Psaki finally said: “It was–the focus of that–of the meetings in Geneva were on the nuclear negotiations.” Psaki did not have information for reporters on any specific information regarding Levinson’s, Hekmati’s, or Abedin’s current location or condition.
The exchange occurs at 11:12 in the video below: