WASHINGTON Tehran has told the United States it has no idea of the whereabouts of a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran last month, the State Department said on Thursday.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran sent a message via the Swiss on Wednesday in response to U.S. questions about Robert Levinson, an ex-FBI agent from Florida who has not been heard of since he went on a business trip to Iran's Gulf island of Kish early in March.
"They said they did not have any record of Mr Levinson concerning his whereabouts. That, shall we say, is a response that we shall continue to pursue as we have assured ourselves to a great degree that Mr. Levinson is in Iran," McCormack told reporters.
"We are going to keep working on behalf of an American family to find out where he (Levinson) is," added McCormack.
Switzerland acts as a go-between with Tehran and Washington, which cut off diplomatic relations in April 1980, five months after Iranian students occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
The case concerning Levinson is murky, with contradictory versions of events. But U.S. officials say they have no credible evidence yet to determine what may have happened to Levinson or whether he could be in Iranian custody.
Before going to Kish, Levinson visited the U.S. consulate in Dubai but details have not been given of that meeting. However, the State Department insists Levinson went to Iran on private business and was not working for the U.S. government.
The United States has asked two European countries to help track down Levinson and get answers from Iran about the case. McCormack declined to name the countries.
Diplomats fear the case of Levinson could mark a new twist in apparent tit-for-tat detentions involving the United States, Britain and Iran, which began with the detention by U.S. forces in Iraq of five Iranians in January and the capture of 15 British sailors by Iran who were freed earlier this month.
There are also heightened tensions between the two countries over Iran's nuclear program and Washington has spearheaded U.N. sanctions against Tehran.