WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One prominent name was missing from the list of Americans to be released by Iran on Saturday: former U.S. law-enforcement agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared while visiting the country in 2007.
U.S. officials believe that Levinson, who suffered from diabetes, died in captivity after meeting with an American-born Islamic militant on Kish Island, Iran. Iranian officials have repeatedly denied knowledge of his disappearance or whereabouts.
U.S. officials said they pursued an answer to Levinson’s disappearance in the course of months of secret talks with Iran, but had nothing to report on his case. On Saturday, Iran agreed to free four Americans held in Iran in exchange for the United States offering clemency to seven Iranians in U.S. sanctions cases.
“In the end he is not going to appear as part of this deal, but we have an arrangement with the Iranians to continue seeking information about his whereabouts,” a U.S. official involved in the talks with Iran said.
Levinson’s family, which has held out hope that he is still alive, has said he was working for the Central Intelligence Agency in what amounted to a rogue operation at the time he disappeared. The family’s lawyer told CNN the agency paid $2.5 million to avoid a lawsuit.
The CIA conducted an internal inquiry into Levinson’s unauthorized relationship with the agency’s analytical division, resulting in three officials being fired and several more being disciplined, officials have said.
The CIA declined to comment on Saturday.
Iran agreed to free five other Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. In return, President Barack Obama pardoned three Iranian-Americans charged for violating trade sanctions against Iran, a lawyer for one of the men said, while prosecutors moved to drop charges against four Iranians outside the United States.
The deal came ahead of an expected announcement that international sanctions against Tehran will be lifted under a nuclear agreement.
MET WITH ISLAMIC MILITANT
Levinson’s wife and sister have met with Obama, and the family had been told to expect a call from the White House, according to a source close the family.
Instead, they learned from television that he was not among the five Americans to be released, the source said.
David McGee, the family’s lawyer, declined to comment.
Levinson worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration for 28 years. He worked as a private investigator after retiring from the government in 1998.
In Iran, Levinson had met with Dawud Salahuddin, an American-born Islamic militant who had fled the United States after killing a former Iranian official outside Washington in 1980. Salahuddin, formerly known as David Belfield, said he considered the killing an act of war.
The last known picture of Levinson from 2011 showed Levinson in an orange jumpsuit holding a sign saying, “Help Me.” Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in March 2011 that the U.S. government believed at the time he was being held “somewhere in southwest Asia.”
In March last year, the eighth anniversary of Levinson’s disappearance, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Iran to step up efforts to investigate the case, and the FBI announced it would offer a $5 million reward for information that could free him.
Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, who was detained by Iranian authorities in October while visiting relatives, also was not freed on Saturday. U.S. officials said they would continue to press for his release.
Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki and Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Paul Simao
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