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The US government on Monday accused two Iranian intelligence officials of being behind the mysterious 2007 disappearance and probable death of former FBI agent Robert Levinson.
The announcement, accompanied by sanctions against the men, comes in the waning days of the Trump administration and adds pressure on Iran before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
“We know how senior Iranian officials sanctioned Mr. Levinson’s abduction and detention. The regime also took deliberate actions to obfuscate the responsibility through an extensive disinformation campaign. Iranian leaders have lived over and over again,” a senior US official told reporters.
US officials said on a press call that the Biden administration must work to free Americans in Iran as part of any new nuclear deal — unlike the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump scrapped as toothless.
Levinson, who would be 72, probably died in Iranian detention but the US doesn’t know for sure, officials told reporters.
The two Iranian men are officers of the Ministry of Intelligence and allegedly ordered Levinson’s detention with involvement from senior members of the theocratic government.
Levinson’s nearly 14-year disappearance has long been the subject of intrigue as his family demands answers.
Whether Levinson was working for the CIA when he visited Kish Island in the Persian Gulf is a matter of dispute.
It’s unclear when US officials acquired intelligence on the individuals behind the alleged abduction. US officials also told reporters on a call they didn’t know the motive.
One official told reporters, “I can’t get into their heads and figure out why they would do this. You know, logic would suggest the desire to seize and question someone who spent his career in law enforcement in the United States.”
Another US official acknowledged that the sanctions are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the financial assets of the men, at least within US borders. But she said, “There are secondary sanctions implications for any of their external dealings outside of Iran. It is one part of a pressure campaign.”
Another official called on Biden’s negotiators to keep in mind that other Americans are jailed in Iran, including dual citizens.
“There should be no agreement negotiated with Iran ever again that doesn’t free Americans who are unjustly detained in that country,” he said. “We all expect some negotiation next year that negotiation must include the return home of all the Americans unjustly detained in that country.”