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Obama Calls on Iran to Free Detained Americans

FILE - Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, is shown in a 2013 photo.

Invoking the "familial spirit" of the Persian new year, U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday called for Iran to free three imprisoned Americans and to help find a fourth who went missing there eight years ago.

The Nowruz holiday "is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year," Obama said in a statement seeking the "immediate release" of American detainees Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian, as well as cooperation in tracking down Robert Levinson.

Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor from Boise, Idaho, was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 for setting up home-based Christian churches in Iran, Reuters reported. His two young children "needlessly continue to grow up" without him, Obama’s statement said.

Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine from Michigan, was taken captive in 2011 while visiting relatives and accused of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency. "His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir’s absence for far too long," the statement said.

Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent since 2012, was seized last July on charges that have not yet been detailed, according to the newspaper. The California native’s Iranian-born wife, reporter Yeganeh Salehi, also had been taken into custody but was released on bail.

Levinson, a retired FBI agent, went missing from Kish Island in March 2007. At the time, he was a CIA source, Reuters reported. The FBI has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his safe return. "His family has now endured the hardship of his disappearance for over eight years," Obama said.

Washington and Tehran severed diplomatic relations after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. The United States and several other world powers are conducting talks with Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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