By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007 6:34 PM
Three months after former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson disappeared on Iran's Kish Island, Iran has told the State Department that its investigation into his whereabouts has produced no information, senior State Department officials said today.
The letter from Iran's Foreign Ministry, delivered Wednesday through the Swiss government, came seven weeks after the State Department's fifth communication to Tehran. That message contained detailed and specific leads to help determine Levinson's location and health, the officials said. The terse response from Tehran elicited skepticism and concern within the Bush administration.
"The message we received from the Iranian government contradicts information that we have seen in media reports and other sources," said Dave Foley, spokesman for the State Department's Near East Affairs Bureau. "It is difficult for us to believe that the Iranian government has no knowledge about what happened to Mr. Levinson, who went missing while visiting Kish Island on March 8."
Foley said the State Department will continue to press Tehran to cooperate in Levinson's case. But there are few alternatives. Since diplomatic relations were severed after the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the United States relies on the Swiss, who represent U.S. interests, or other allies with embassies in Tehran, to act as intermediaries.
Levinson, who lives in Florida, was on what was supposed to be a brief private business trip to meet Iranian contacts on Kish Island. He flew out of the United Arab Emirates, where he kept his hotel room. There have been various Iranian press reports that he was taken to Tehran by Iranian Revolutionary Guards shortly after he arrived, although the government has made no mention of him.
Levinson's disappearance comes amid continuing concern over the fate of five dual U.S.-Iranian nationals who have been imprisoned or detained in Iran since at least last December. They include Haleh Esfandiari of the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington; Kian Tajbakhsh, a New York social scientist; Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda; Ali Shakeri, a California businessman; and another unnamed person.
After meeting with Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash, today, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) expressed concern about the 67-year-old Potomac woman's welfare.
"She has been denied legal representation, access to international humanitarian groups, and visits by her sick mother," Mikulski said in a statement. Mikulski co-sponsored a Senate resolution unanimously approved May 24 that demanded Esfandiari's immediate release from Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.
Also today, the State Department condemned Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's recent comments advocating the destruction of Israel. "These are the latest in a line of statements isolating the Iranian regime from the rest of the international community and are further cause for mistrust," spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.