White House pleads for Iran to return American

The White House on Tuesday pleaded for Iran to return a missing retired FBI agent who's widely believed to be in the hands of that country's intelligence services.

Robert Levinson disappeared on March 9 during a business trip to Kish Island. U.S. officials and Iranian press reports suggest Iran is keeping him as a bargaining chip in its negotiations with the U.S.

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“As we approach the upcoming holiday season, we reiterate the commitment of the United States government to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home safely to his family, friends, and loved ones,” the White House Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement. “We welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation, and we respectfully ask the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to assist us in securing Mr. Levinson’s health, welfare, and safe return.”

The plea comes amid mounting criticism that the Obama administration's deal with Iran only focused on the nuclear file. Some lawmakers want any future deal to demand that Iran release imprisoned Americans, including Levinson, Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, an alleged CIA spy who is awaiting a retrial after his death sentence was overturned last year.

“We can start by reclaiming the moral high ground and demand the Iranian regime immediately and unconditionally release the three Americans they are unjustly detaining, Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Robert Levinson,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote Monday in an op-ed for Foreign Policy magazine. “American citizens are not bargaining chips, and there should be no further discussion while they are languishing in prison.”

Televangelist Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice has accused Obama of an “appalling betrayal” for failing to secure Abedini's release as part of this weekend's interim deal. Earlier this month the Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Iran to release him and “all other individuals detained on account of their religious beliefs,” and the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a similar resolution last week.

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