U.S. seeks release of Abedini, others

President Obama makes a ‘respectful request’ of Iran during the holidays.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSNovember 27, 2013 

The White House on Tuesday made public its appeal to Iran to return a retired FBI agent, a Boise pastor and a former Marine being held in the country.

Saeed Abedini’s wife, Nagmeh, and their two children live in Boise. Abedini, 33, detained since the summer of 2012, is in an Iranian prison.

Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent, disappeared during a business trip to Iran’s Kish Island in March 2007. The United States believes tht the private investigator and father of seven was abducted and is being held in Iran.

Levinson’s case became a topic in recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iran aimed at addressing the Islamic country’s nuclear program and improving diplomatic ties.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama specifically raised Levinson’s case, as well as those of Abedini and Amir Hekmati, during a telephone conversation earlier in the fall with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Hekmati is a U.S. citizen whose family lives in Michigan.

“It is our view that all of these Americans should have the opportunity to come home,” Earnest said while traveling with Obama in Los Angeles. “The U.S. government has made a respectful request of the Iranian regime during this holiday season to consider on humanitarian grounds releasing these three Americans, or at least releasing the two Americans we know are detained and locating the whereabouts of the third, Mr. Levinson.”

Abedini is a native of Iran who was convicted in January of undermining state security for his involvement in Christian home churches. He was sentenced to eight years.

Abedini, said to need medical care, recently was transferred from Evin prison to Rajai Shahr prison. The Rajai prison is described by human rights groups as an extremely brutal facility housing Iran’s most violent criminals, with excessive rates of inmate-on-inmate violence.

A written statement the White House released before Earnest spoke said the U.S. remains committed to finding and bringing home Levinson, who is from Coral Springs, Fla.

“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 statement read.

Hekmati’s sister, Sarah Hekmati, said Tuesday that she and her family hope more frequent discussions between U.S. and Iranian officials lead to her brother’s release after more than two years.

“We feel more reassured that Amir’s case can be raised now with this bridge that’s been built ... and we can be closer to a resolution,” she said.

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