In his election campaign, US President Donald Trump vowed to return Iranian-held hostages to the US. Now the relatives of one of those men are asking the president to make good on his promise.
The family of Robert Levinson, a Jewish American who went missing nine years ago in Iran, asked for a meeting with Trump, the New York Times reported Sunday. According to the FBI, Levinson is the “longest-held hostage in American history.”
In the week of Levinson’s 69th birthday, his family called on Trump to bring back the incarcerated American. Trump said at a campaign rally in 2015 on Capitol Hill that “If I win the presidency, I guarantee you that those four prisoners are back in our country before I ever take office. I guarantee that.”
He was referring to four Americans held by Iran, Levinson, Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian. Abedini, Hekmati and Rezaian were released by Iran last year, but Levinson remains imprisoned.
At the time Trump criticized the Obama administration for not linking the Iran nuclear deal to the return of the captives.
Then-secretary of state John Kerry said during the deal negotiations that bringing Levinson back was a priority for the Obama administration.
“As the president has said, and as I have told the Levinson family when I have met with them, we will never forget Bob, and we will not rest until the Levinson family is whole again,” Kerry said in a statement.
“The US government in its entirety will continue all efforts to locate Bob and bring him home. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has committed to cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson, and we are holding Iran to its promise.”
A year later and Levinson’s family is no closer to knowing his whereabouts or his fate.
Levinson disappeared during a trip to Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. A 2013 Associated Press investigation found he was working for the CIA on an unauthorized intelligence-gathering mission to find information about Iran’s nuclear program. US officials have said they are no longer certain he remains in the country.
The 2013 AP investigation showed that in a breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from hotspots around the world, including the Middle East and Latin America.
The official story when Levinson disappeared was that he was in Iran on private business, either to investigate cigarette smuggling or to work on a book about Russian organized crime. It has a presence on Kish, a tourist island.
In fact, he was meeting a source, an American fugitive, Dawud Salahuddin. He is wanted for killing a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. In interviews, Salahuddin has admitted killing the diplomat.
The CIA paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million to preempt a revealing lawsuit, and the agency rewrote its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders. Three analysts who had been working with Levinson lost their jobs.