WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Tuesday made a holiday appeal to Iran to return a retired FBI agent and two other Americans being held in the country.
Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent, disappeared during a business trip to Iran's Kish Island in March 2007. The United States believes the private investigator and father of seven was abducted and is being held in Iran. Levinson's case was a topic in recent negotiations between U.S. and Iran aimed at addressing Iran's nuclear program and improving diplomatic ties.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama specifically raised Levinson's case as well as those of U.S. citizens Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, who have been detained in Iran, during a telephone conversation earlier in the fall with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Abedini is a pastor from Boise, Idaho; Hekmati is a former U.S. Marine whose family lives in Michigan.
"It is our view that all of these Americans should have the opportunity to come home," Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama in Los Angeles. "The U.S. government has made a respectful request of the Iranian regime during this holiday season to consider on humanitarian grounds releasing these three Americans, or at least releasing the two Americans we know are detained and locating the whereabouts of the third, Mr. Levinson."
A written statement the White House released before Earnest spoke said the U.S. remained committed to finding and bringing home Levinson, who is from Coral Springs, Fla.
"We respectfully ask the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to assist us in securing Mr. Levinson's health, welfare, and safe return," the statement said.
Hekmati's sister Sarah Hekmati said Tuesday that she and her family hope more frequent discussions between U.S. and Iranian officials lead to her brother's release after more than two years.
"We feel more reassured that Amir's case can be raised now with this bridge that's been built ... and we can be closer to a resolution," she said.
___ Associated Press writer Jeff Karoub in Detroit contributed to this report.