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US Cites Possible Break in Levinson Case

Robert Levinson (file photo)

Robert Levinson (file photo)

The United States said Thursday that there are indications that missing former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Levinson, last seen in Iran nearly four years ago, is alive. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made a new appeal to Iran for help in the matter.

Officials here are providing few details in the case. But they say there are reasons to believe that the 63-year-old Levinson is alive and being held somewhere in southwest Asia and that Iran can be helpful in bringing him home.

The Levinson case has been an irritant in an already-difficult U.S.-Iran relationship since the former law enforcement officer went missing shortly after arriving at the Iranian resort of Kish Island in 2007.

The United States has pressed in public and in rare diplomatic contacts with Iran since then for information about Levinson, but Iran denies having any information on the American’s whereabouts.

The new turn in the case came in a written statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said the United States has received "recent indications" that Levinson is being held somewhere in southwest Asia.

Reading the statement to reporters, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States is making a new appeal to Iran for help in the case.

"As the government of Iran has previously offered its assistance in this matter, we respectfully request the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family," said P.J. Crowley. "We would appreciate the Iranian government’s efforts in this matter."

Pressed by reporters, Crowley said the United States has no specific information about Levinson’s whereabouts, including the country he might be held in.

Shortly after the release of the Clinton statement, the Associated Press reported that Levinson’s family had received information that he was reported alive late last year and that investigators confirmed its authenticity.

The news agency said it had refrained from reporting about the development at the urging of U.S. officials who said it might jeopardize efforts on Levinson’s behalf, and that it issued the story after Secretary Clinton’s acknowledgement.

Levinson, whose home in the southern U.S. state of Florida, retired from the FBI in 1998 and became a private investigator.

His family says he was investigating cigarette counterfeiting when he disappeared on the Iranian island, which is a free trade area and a reported hotbed of smuggling.

U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed frustration over Iran’s apparent lack of cooperation in the Levinson case. Thursday’s statement reflected a more conciliatory tone.