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US Says Fourth Iranian-American Held by Tehran


The U.S. State Department has confirmed that Iran has jailed a third Iranian-American and is preventing a fourth from leaving the country. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

State Department officials say there has been no formal notice from Iran on the status of California businessman Ali Shakeri.

But they say that given explicit Iranian media reporting this week of his detention and spy allegations against him, there is no longer any doubt about his status.

Shakeri, affiliated with a non-governmental conflict-resolution group - the University of California at Irvine's Center for Citizen Peacebuilding - was supposed to have flown to Europe earlier this month after visiting his native Iran but never arrived at his destination.

The Iranian newspaper Kayhan, linked to political hard-liners in Tehran, said Wednesday Shakeri has been jailed and accused of being a CIA agent and having links to Iranian opposition groups seeking to overthrow the country's Islamic leadership.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said Shakeri is the fourth Iranian-American to be jailed or detained in Iran in what he said was a "disturbing pattern" of harassment of U.S. citizens in Iran on family business or other innocent activity.

Casey said the suggestion that Shakeri is a U.S. spy or agent is completely unfounded.

"As with the other cases here, it's simply ridiculous," he said. "He has no standing with the U.S. government. He is not a U.S. government official. He is not operating or acting on behalf of the U.S. government. He's a private citizen who has been engaged, again, in the kinds of pretty straight-forward academic research and people to people exchanges that have traditionally been things that have been beyond the political issues between our two governments."

The accusations against Shakeri mirror those against two other recently-detained Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiari of Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute.

The other Iranian-American, journalist Parnaz Azima of the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, has not been jailed. But her passport was confiscated and she has been barred from leaving Iran since January after going there for a family visit.

Spokesman Casey said the United States has asked for consular access to the four U.S. citizens by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran which looks after U.S. interests in Iran, but that there has been no Iranian response.

Casey also said the United States is still seeking information from Iran on the status of Robert Levinson, a retired former U.S. FBI agent who went missing after arriving at the Iranian Persian Gulf resort of Kish Island in March.

The United States has made several official inquiries about Levinson through the Swiss channel but been told that Iran has no information on his whereabouts.

Casey said it is clear that Levinson arrived in Iran and that there is no indication that he left, and that Iran "ought to be able" to provide some information about him.

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