U.S. Faults Detention By Iran of Dual Citizens

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2007

The State Department yesterday sharply criticized Iran's detention of Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari and journalist Parnaz Azima and acknowledged a growing problem with Tehran over its actions against U.S. and dual U.S.-Iranian citizens.

"We want to see them returned back to their families," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "These two women are an academic on the one hand, a journalist on the other. These people don't pose any threat to the Iranian regime."

McCormack said arresting Esfandiari, co-director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and confiscating the passport of Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda, offers "an insight into the nature of this regime." Esfandiari was detained Tuesday; Azima's passport was confiscated in January. Both women were in Iran visiting sick mothers.

In Tehran, Esfandiari's 93-year-old mother went to notorious Evin Prison to try to visit her daughter but was turned away, according to Esfandiari's husband, George Mason University professor Shaul Bakhash.

A hard-line news agency in Iran charged Tuesday that Esfandiari was head of the Iran section of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which family members and the Woodrow Wilson Center said is not true.

Meanwhile, the wife of former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson, who went missing after he flew to Iran's Kish Island on March 8, met with senior State Department officials Tuesday to bring more pressure on the U.S. government, according to a family member who spoke on the condition of the anonymity. Levinson's wife, Christine, also released a copy of the letter she wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appealing for him to help find and release her husband.

"The challenges and difficulties you face as the president of a powerful nation are impossible for me to comprehend. Knowing the hardship, suffering and tragedy faced by many people in your part of the world, I feel conflicted when asking for your consideration. But as a wife and a mother, I am compelled to do so," Levinson said in the letter, dated April 25. The letter was released on a new Web site, http://www.helpboblevinson.com.

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