Now may be the perfect time for the Obama administration to push the Iranian government to come clean on the fate of Robert Levinson.
Levinson, 66, of Coral Springs, Fla., disappeared seven years ago from Iran’s Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. Reportedly, he was on a private business trip when he went missing, but The Washington Post reported last December that he had been working for the CIA in a rogue operation.
The Jewish father of seven is one of the longest-held American citizens in history.
At the time of the Post’s story, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif claimed that Levinson is not incarcerated in Iran under government auspices.
But that doesn’t satisfy everyone, least of all Secretary of State John Kerry who marked the anniversary of Levinson’s disappearance Sunday by calling on Iran to return him to his family.
“The United States remains committed to the safe return of Mr. Levinson to his family,” Kerry said in a statement. “We appreciate the support and assistance from our international partners as we work to end this awful separation. Given Mr. Levinson’s health, age and length of time in captivity, we mark this anniversary with a special sense of urgency.”
He said the Iranian government should “work cooperatively with us on the investigation into his disappearance so we can ensure his safe return.”
There are two reasons why this is a good time — perhaps the best time — to push for an end to the Levinson saga:
• Iran is in sensitive nuclear arms talks with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany (the so-called P5+1); and
• Israel, with U.S. assistance, just interdicted a vessel in the Red Sea loaded with weapons bound for Gazan terrorists. Iran is claiming that Israel concocted the story, but the evidence is plain and Cold War speak doesn’t fool anyone these days.
News of the interdiction doesn’t help Iran’s credibility at Geneva. Mind you, if no treaty is reached, many hardliners back home would be just fine with that. The United States is still the Great Satan and Israel still occupies Muslim lands as far as they’re concerned.
But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians without giving up the right to enrich uranium. That means sanctions relief. It’s really the only reason Iran is at Geneva.
Now that they’ve been caught red-handed trying to stoke the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with yet another arms shipment, they may find it to their advantage to make a quiet gesture to the West to bolster their bargaining — not to restore trust. (There’s no question of trust yet; none exists.)
Frankly, we don’t know if Levinson is alive or dead. We do know his family has waited too long for an answer to that question. Levinson’s fate should not be the major bargaining chip in talks with Iran, but it is a chip. For the sake of bringing this man home, now may be the time to play it.