Rep. Ted Deutch’s (D-Fla.) constituent Bob Levinson is the longest-held U.S. hostage in history, having recently marked eight years since he went missing off the coast of Iran.
In January 2014, his wife, Christine Levinson, released photos the family had received from his captors nearly two years earlier. She did so because “there isn’t any pressure on Iran to resolve this.”
The captors of three other Americans are known: the regime in Tehran holds Marine vet Amir Hekmati, seized in 2011 when he went to visit family for the first time; Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, convicted in January 2013 for crimes against the national security of Iran, a charge tied to his involvement many years earlier with establishing Christian house churches; and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been held without any notification of the charges against him for more than six months.
The frustration at their continued captivity and documented mistreatment — especially as Washington sits across a table from Tehran nuclear negotiators — only mounts.
Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week that the administration will “continue to insist” that Iran locate Levinson and release Hekmati, Abedini, and Rezaian.
“I understand that we are now approaching a deadline and I want to — I want to express my thanks, as I have every single time I’ve had the opportunity, for the focus on working to bring my constituent, Bob Levinson, home,” Deutch told Blinken at the hearing.
“But as we approach these last days, let me just say that ‘raising the issue’ at this point can no longer suffice and that with respect to Pastor Abedini and Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and Bob Levinson, if anyone is to take Iran seriously, that there is any commitment that they can make that can be adhered to, then the best show of good faith they can make will be to return those Americans,” the congressman stressed.
Blinken replied it’s “something that we’re working on virtually every day.”
Today, President Obama issued a statement on the U.S. citizens held in Iran, linking it with the Persian holiday of Nowruz.
“It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year,” Obama said. “Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran.”
“At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible,” the president added.
“In honor of the familial spirit so strongly enshrined within this holiday and for the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian, and Levinson families, I hope this new spring is filled with joyous moments for us all with all of our loved ones by our sides.”
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who is the Hekmati family’s congressman, brought up Amir’s case with Obama in the moments after the State of the Union speech. He kept his guest seat for the annual address empty in honor of his constituent.
“I’m pleased to hear the president’s strong statement in support of Amir Hekmati’s release,” Kildee said in a statement today. “Amir is an American citizen who has done nothing wrong, yet continues to languish in an Iranian prison. Despite his innocence, Iran has held him captive for more than three years.”
“If Iran is serious about rejoining the international community, they must release Amir so that he can be reunited with his ailing father and the rest of his family in Michigan.”