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04/17/2007

Well, not entirely a dead horse

Sean_mccormack

The State Department's official line on Bob Levinson seems to have shifted a bit in the aftermath of Friday's story in the Financial Times. In essence, they're finally turning up the heat on Iran: "We have given the Iranian Government what we think is a reasonable amount of time …"

Perhaps more interestingly, the Department admits for the first time that the U.S. Consul General in Dubai met with Levinson before he left for Kish Island. Alhough the State Department won't say what was discussed (citing "privacy" reasons), Mr. Sutphin's c.v. mentions a background in counter-terrorism and terrorist financing, which may help explain his posting to the money laundering and terrorist financing capital of the Middle East.

Herewith, the relevant portion of today's daily press briefing with Sean McCormack:

Question: Mr. Levinson?

Mr. McCormack: Yes.

Question: Can you talk about what you've heard back, if anything, from the Iranians? I know you spoke a little about this morning, but --

Mr. McCormack: Right. We -- what has happened over the weekend is we have sent another request to the Iranian Government via the Swiss Embassy and that request asked the Iranian Government to give us a definitive answer or as definitive an answer as they can give us right now as to Mr. Levinson's whereabouts. After we've had an opportunity to go through the data or do some of our own due diligence, we're confident that he did travel to Kish Island in Iran and we are relatively confident that he did not leave Iran as far as we have been able to determine. So to the best of our knowledge he is in Iran. And we have given the Iranian Government what we think is a reasonable amount of time -- about a week -- to pulse their system and determine what his whereabouts might be. And so we have now sent a more formal request back through the Swiss Embassy to ask them that question: What have you found? And ask for a definitive answer back.

Question: When you say that you're relatively confident that he didn't leave Iran and so thus he could probably be still in Iran, are you basing the fact that you think he's in Iran, based on the fact that you don't believe that he left or something that you believe places him in Iran recently?

Mr. McCormack: No, we don't believe he's left. We haven't been able to find any --

Question: But that's what makes you think he's still there.

Mr. McCormack: Yes. We haven't been able to determine or find any evidence that he left.

Question: Okay. And when you send this more formal request or asking for information back to the Iranian Government, at what point would you ask the Iranians or the Swiss or perhaps with your help to launch a more formal -- is that what you did now or are you looking to launch a more formal investigation --

Mr. McCormack: We would have hoped that the formal request that we put into the Iranian Government a short time ago, a little over a week ago, would have been sufficient to launch a more formal investigation into the matter, as opposed to the previous request that we had with the Swiss Embassy just to see what they can determine about his whereabouts. That was in the month of March. So these are in fact formal requests. And so we're asking a formal answer back from the Iranian Government as to what they have found.

Question: But right now you're just kind of asking them for any information that they had found. But at what point is not -- is a lack of sufficient information from the Iranians enough to ask the Swiss to kind of launch -- you know, you don't have any -- because you don't have any formal relations with Iran, generally, if you had an embassy in a country, your people would launch your own investigation as to what happened. And I think that it's probably more difficult in this case.

Mr. McCormack: Well, regardless of the case, you know, we're a little bit more constrained by the fact that we're dealing with sovereign nations. And we are dependent upon the cooperation of the host nation in launching whatever investigation it is that gets launched. Now, that's in the best of circumstances where you have a good relationship with the local law enforcement or security authorities. In Iran, we are dependant on the Swiss and then furthermore the Iranians to look into where Mr. Levinson is and to make inquiries throughout their entire system as to what they may know about his whereabouts. As for next steps, we'll see what the answer is that we get back from the Iranian Government.

Yeah.

Question: In your own due diligence, did that turn up what he was doing in Iran, who he was meeting?

Mr. McCormack: There are a number of reports. I've seen some of the news reports out there. I don't think at this point we can speak definitively as to what private business he was on. I think that's going to have to wait until Mr. Levinson gets back to the United States and he can explain exactly what sort of private business he was involved in.

Question: Why do you think he's still -- why do you think he did not leave Iran? Because to leave Kish -- to go in and out of Kish you don't need a visa, so what evidence do you have that he didn't leave?

Mr. McCormack: Well, I guess the presumption is -- exactly that, you don't need a visa to go into Kish Island and presumably he would leave from Kish Island. He wouldn't travel elsewhere in Iran. We don't know that, but that's the presumption. And we have not been able to find any evidence that he retraced his steps in going in. So he didn't reverse his route out. And that's what leads us to the conclusion that he is Iran as far as we can tell.

Question: And do you have any evidence at all to point to whether he's being held by some branch of the Iranian Government or some local authorities, the tourist police?

Mr. McCormack: You know, we can't -- that's why we don't have any reliable information. That's why we're going back and asking the Iranians.

Question: Do you still believe -- you believe he's on Kish still or do you think that he may have gone into Iran proper, mainland or whatever?

Mr. McCormack: We don't know. As far as we're able to tell he didn't -- you know, he didn't obtain a visa so that he means he would have been limited likely to Kish Island. He perhaps could have traveled to other locations in Iran. We don't know that. But as far as we can tell he hasn't exited. Again, we're --

Question: Right.

Mr. McCormack: We're making a certain number of assumptions here that he would just retrace his steps on coming out.

Question: I understand. But in response to when you first went to the Swiss with the request to the Iranians, the Iranians got back to you asking for more information.

Mr. McCormack: Right.

Question: You gave them the information --

Mr. McCormack: Right.

Question: -- and said can you tell us.

Mr. McCormack: Right.

Question: Did -- at any point have they said that they issued him a visa to go to the -- onto the -- into Iran proper?

Mr. McCormack: I don't think we've gotten that piece of information.

Question: But a visa --

Mr. McCormack: Our folks in -- I'm trying to remember -- in Dubai did actually talk to him before he went into -- traveled to Kish Island.

Question: I'm sorry, your folks -- you mean --

Mr. McCormack: In Dubai.

Question: The U.S. Embassy in Dubai spoke to --

Mr. McCormack: The consulate, yeah.

Question: -- Mr. Levinson before he left?

Mr. McCormack: Yes,

Question: So as far as --

Question: And he told him he was going to -- they told them -- he told them he was going to Kish?

Mr. McCormack: I don't know if he told them he was going to Kish Island. I don't know the extent of the conversation, but they did talk to him.

Question: Why was he in contact with the Embassy to begin with? I mean, he was on private business. Most people don't just stop in at the Embassy.

Mr. McCormack: You can ask Mr. Levinson when he returns to the States.

Question: He told them that he was going to Iran or not? Was that the purpose of his contact with the consulate?

Mr. McCormack: I don't know the extent of their conversations. I know that they did. I don't know what sort of detail they get into.

Question: As far as you know, though, at this moment, the Iranians are not giving you any information at all. The only contact that you have had with them through the Swiss has been for them to ask for these questions. They haven't said we gave him a visa to go to the mainland or --

Question: Correct.

Question: Okay.

Question: And, Sean, you don't really know if he's dead or alive at this point? You have absolutely no information as to --

Mr. McCormack: We're looking forward to his being reunited with his family.

Question: Just on the consulate -- just a clarification. Is it not the understanding that he went to talk to the consulate because he was going to [Kish Island]?

Mr. McCormack: Nicholas, I don't know.

Question: Because Dubai is a watch post for Iran, so it would make sense --

Mr. McCormack: You know, Nicholas, I don't know why. I know that they had a conversation.

Question: Right, because he --

Mr. McCormack: Frankly, even if I did know the contents of the conversation, I wouldn't relay it here because I want to maintain a certain amount of privacy for him.

Question: Right.

Question: Basically, we've pretty much exhausted everything you have to say about --

Mr. McCormack: Flagellum equus mortuus -- (laughter) -- yes.

Saying "you can ask Mr. Levinson when he returns to the States" marks a welcome departure from the strict "no credible information" line they were handing out at Foggy Bottom as recently as a week ago.

Let's hope something is happening behind the scenes to warrant the change.

Don't forget to sign the Free Bobby! petition.

Posted by Rodger on April 17, 2007 at 12:41 AM | Permalink

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