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05/09/2007

The State Department connects the dots

The Washington Post's Robin Wright indicates the Foggy Bottom gang has finally detected a pattern in Iran's recent detentions of American citizens:

The State Department today condemned 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.

"They are both grandmothers and so I am not sure what it is the Iranian government has to fear from these ladies," he added….

McCormack said arresting Esfandiari, co-director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center of 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.

I might point out that a photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, was locked up in Evin Prison in 2003 after taking photos outside the prison. During her detention, she was brutally tortured and raped, before ultimately dying of a fractured skull. One other item of note: Kazemi, had dual Iranian-Canadian citizenship.

(In addition to Esfandiar and Azima, a third American woman with dual citizenship is being detained.)

Wright also notes that the Levinson family—who, up to now, have stayed cleart of the media spotlight—are finally turning up the heat:

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 asked not to be identified because of ongoing diplomatic efforts. Levinson's wife, Christine [see video above], 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.

The State Department has sent five communications to Iran via the Swiss government asking for information on Levinson's whereabouts and circumstances, noting Iranian news reports that Levinson was flown from Kish Island, a resort where foreigners are not required to have visas, to Tehran by Iranian security forces. McCormack said the State Department has not received a response to its fifth communication last month.

I urge anyone who can help the Levinsons free Bobby to contact them at info@helpboblevinson.com

If you haven't already done so, you should also sign the petition to free Bobby Levinson here and the one to free Parnaz Azima here.

It now seems that Trento, DEBKA and others (including this blog) have been the unwitting accomplices of a curious disinformation campaign directed by Iranian intelligence and carried out by Dawud Salahuddin.

It's far from clear what Tehran hopes to gain from this latest round of hostage diplomacy, but I think we can now safely conclude that earlier reports of Bobby Levinson's release were a bit premature.

UPDATE: DEBKA now seems to be backing away from its earlier report, based on Kurdish sources, of Levinson's release.

Posted by Rodger on May 9, 2007 at 11:20 PM | Permalink

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