WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration continues to believe that a Jewish American who disappeared from Iran in 2007 is no longer in that country.
Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, explained in a press briefing on Tuesday why the Obama administration had settled for an Iranian pledge to help track the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, rather than his return as part of a prisoner exchange with Iran.
“Now, as we mentioned several years ago, we have reason to believe that he no longer is in Iran, and that’s why we continue to press for information about his whereabouts,” Earnest said. “And we’re going to continue to do that, and we’ve secured a commitment from the Iranians to use the channel that has now been opened to secure the release of those individuals that we know were being held by Iran on unjustly to use those same channels to try to gather information about Mr. Levinson’s possible whereabouts.”
Five Americans were released by Iran over the weekend in an exchange timed to coincide with the implementation of the sanctions relief for nuclear rollbacks deal struck last year between Iran and six major powers.
Levinson’s family says they are seeking face-to-face meetings with senior administration officials to learn more about what they know about Levinson’s whereabouts.
“We’re desperate for answers, and we’re really going to push hard, and we’re not going to go away,” Christine Levinson, his wife, told CNN this week.
Earnest said that multiple officials, including President Barack Obama, had spoken with the Levinson family in recent years, with the most recent update on Saturday, when the prisoners were released, and before that on around Christmas.
“We’re obviously very sensitive to the concerns and rather raw feelings of the Levinson family,” he said. “I think the feelings that are on display are, I think, feelings that no one can really relate to unless you’ve gone through something like that.”
Levinson, 68, of Coral Springs, Florida, a private detective and a former FBI agent, has been missing since disappearing from Iran’s Kish Island during what has since been revealed as a rogue CIA operation.
Levinson’s congressman, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., launched a social media campaign on Monday to raise awareness.
“As we celebrate the return of Americans held in Iran, we must also redouble our efforts to locate Bob and reunite him with his loving family,” Deutch said in a Facebook posting. “You can tweet using the hashtag #WhatAboutBob to raise awareness about efforts to bring Bob home.”