Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Wife of ex-FBI man held by Iran criticises US failures

Bob Levinson has been held for 12 years and has had no contact with his family

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island, Iran, on March 9, 2007. AFP
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island, Iran, on March 9, 2007. AFP

The wife of the longest-serving US prisoner in Iran has criticised the failure of successive administrations to secure the release of her husband.

In a sharp rebuff to US President Donald Trump, who claimed success on Thursday for hostage releases, Christine Levinson said her husband had been secretly held for 12 years without any repercussions for Iran.

“I hold the Iranian government responsible but I believe the US government is at fault as well,” Mrs Levinson said.

“Right now, our governments are not talking. They need to come to the table for Bob and finally resolve this.”

Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who turns 71 this weekend, went missing in 2007 on Iran’s Kish Island where he was investigating a case of cigarette smuggling. His family has had no direct contact with him since.

Iran has never publicly admitted to holding Mr Levinson but the UN Human Rights Council said in 2016 that Iran was responsible for his detention.

His family knew he was held only after the release of a hostage video and photos from unknown captors.

His family has claimed in court papers that Iran sought to tie his release to the return of a Revolutionary Guard general who defected to the West.

The FBI has offered a $5 million (Dh1.8m) reward for his return.

Mrs Levinson and other relatives gave evidence on Thursday at a hearing before the committee on the status of American hostages in Iran.

Legislators were preparing to introduce laws that would include extra powers to allow the US to sanction nations that held people on political grounds.

Mrs Levinson said the family had received no meaningful assistance from the Iranian government other than allowing them to go to Kish Island to retrace his steps.

“Iran has been allowed to feign ignorance over and over again, with absolutely no repercussions from the US,” she said.

She said that in the first years, US government agencies were not talking to each other and inaccurate statements by officials, questioning whether he was alive or in Iran, were thrown “back in our faces” by Iranian officials.

“The Iranians still regularly point to a statement made in error by the White House three years ago that Bob is not in Iran," Mrs Levinson said.

"That was wrong, but the US government gave Iran an excuse to not send Bob home.

“This has not been the fault of a single person or administration in our government, but instead has become a systemic failure of this government’s ability to uphold our nation’s values.

“After three very different US presidential administrations, we are no closer to bringing Bob home than we were when we started.”

Mr Trump’s special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert O’Brien, said that the president had “unparalleled success” in bringing Americans home without “paying concessions, without prisoner exchanges”.

The president claimed to have secured freedom for 20 US captives since his election and said other negotiations were continuing.

The committee was also due to hear from Babak Namazi, whose brother and father have been jailed for 10 years by Iran.

Baquer Namazi, 81, and Siamak Namazi, 47, a businessman based in the UAE, were being used as “pawns and hostages” by the regime.

“Simply put, Iran is not going to just going to release our hostages unconditionally,” Mr Namazi said.

“Our history with Iran going back to the beginning of the Revolution shows that unfortunately, the release of hostages needs to be negotiated.”

Updated: March 8, 2019 12:34 AM

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