United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

The Mysterious Case of Robert Levinson

            Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent, disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. He was reportedly investigating cigarette smuggling while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family first received evidence that he was alive in November 2010. In the 54-second video, Levinson asked for a U.S. government response to his captors' demands, which have not been publicized.

In March 2011, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that new information indicated that Levinson was being held in southwest Asia. His unidentified captors sent a set of photographs to his family the following month. Levinson, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, held a sign bearing a different message in each photo. “This is the result of 30 years serving for USA,” one read.

      On March 8, 2013 Secretary of State John Kerry called on Iran to uphold its offer to help find Levinson. Tehran responded two days later. “We are ready to cooperate through the intelligence entities to shed light on this issue,”  Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi reportedly said. The following is a statement by Secretary Kerry and remarks by Foreign Minister Salehi.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi
            “We have said many times that we do not have any information in this regard…”
            “We have repeatedly announced that we are ready to cooperate on humanitarian ground to find… how he disappeared… We are ready to cooperate through the intelligence entities to shed light on this issue. I once again repeat that this person is not in Iran and the Americans have already acknowledged this.” March 10, according to ISNA and IRNA news agencies
Press Statement by Secretary of State John Kerry
March 8, 2013
            Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of U.S. citizen Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran on March 9, 2007.
            A husband and father to seven children, Mr. Levinson has missed birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and other important milestones since his disappearance six years ago from Iran’s Kish Island. He is also the grandfather of two, the second of which was born in his absence.
            The United States continues to welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation and calls on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to uphold its offer to help find Mr. Levinson and return him safely to his family.
            I met with Mr. Levinson’s wife and son today to reiterate that the U.S. Government remains committed to locating Mr. Levinson and reuniting him safely with his family.
            Last year the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information on Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts that could lead to his safe return. Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to contact the FBI.
Photo Credit: Released by the Levinson family.


Video: Iranians Candid on One Wish

            Iranian graphic artist Ali Molavi asked 50 people in Tehran: “What’s your wish for today?” At first timid, they answered candidly, reflecting the passions, problems and politics in Iran today. Their wishes ranged from buying a motorcycle, being reborn, to finding a good job. One man wanted “all the inflation and high prices to go away.”  Another wished for Iran to “move towards peace and understanding with other countries." One woman did not have any wishes. “They have not left any room for us to dream anymore,” she said. Molavi's video has been viewed more than 25,000 times. Click on the CC button below to turn on English subtitles.


Video: Former U.S. Commander and Diplomat on Iran

            On March 7, Admiral William Fallon, a retired four-star admiral and former head of U.S. Central Command, warned that “you can’t lock them [the Iranians] in a box” on the nuclear issue. He discussed U.S. policy on Iran with a former assistant secretary state, James Dobbins, and Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Carol Giacomo, an editorial board member at The New York Times moderated the Council on Foreign Relations event. The following is a recording of the discussion.

Click here for a transcript of the discussion.


Khazaee: Threatening Iran Won’t Work

            On March 3, U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said that the recent talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers in Kazakhstan were “a turning point.” Iran feels that “both sides are getting closer to each other,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. But Khazaee also warned against threatening Iran during nuclear negotiations.

            The ambassador also commented on U.S. calls for direct talks with Iran. “We welcome any kind of dialogue and talks with the United States,” he said. But Khazaee stipulated that Washington must be “serious” and “honest.”

            Zakaria asked Khazaee what he thought about the American thriller “Argo,” which was named best picture at the Oscars in February. “Whoever in Iran saw the film, they felt insulted by America.” The ambassador claimed the film’s content was “politically wrong and technically wrong.” The following are excerpts from Khazaee’s interview, with a link to the full transcript.
U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee
Nuclear Program and Negotiations
            “…[W]e have to have a realistic approach in the negotiation… But the feeling that Iranians have from the negotiation is that both sides are getting closer to each other. That's the main point…”

            “But when they decide to negotiate with each other with more comprehensive, simultaneous steps should be taken, these are the important points…”

            “…[M]y understanding is that Iranians will be able to enrich uranium at least at the 5 percent level if what they did for need TRR (Tehran Research Reactor) and for our more than 1 million patients it provided. So these are the good and positive signs that we can take. But, of course, we still have a far way to go ahead to fulfill Iranians' expectation from the other side for a confidence-building measures.”

            “But I think, over the last few years, it was a turning point in the negotiations between Iran and the 5 plus 1...”
            “But Iranians stood against the pressure and hegemony of outside countries against them [during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s]. So we are a nation that we have stood about eight years fighting and defending ourselves.”

            “So, therefore, with such a nation and the history that you know very well, talking about pressure, putting about -- threatening Iran is not going to work.”
U.S.-Iran Relations
            “Iran is for negotiation and definitely we welcome any kind of dialogue and talks with the United States, as well as many other countries, all of the countries around the world…”
            “The clear message of Iran is that if we see that United States is serious and is honest about this proposal for negotiation, cooperation, direct talks with the Iranians, Iranians will accept it and we will welcome it definitely.”

            “There is doubt that that. I can confirm it here with you and also for your distinguished audience that Iran will come negotiation and direct talks with the United States provided that we make sure that U.S. is serious and do not act differently…”
            “The most important point is that some officials in United States should understand how to speak with the Iranians… But the point is that Iranians should make sure that American is not using pressure on Iran for negotiation.”

            “Negotiation should be for negotiation, talks to find common ground and solve if there's any misunderstanding or there is a problem that obviously exists…”
            “… I was member of the Festival Film Jury for five years when I was in Iran. From the technical point of view, to be honest with you, if I was a judge, the movie is a very weak movie.”
            “I'm not saying it is just a very weak or is not compatible with other kind of movies which Hollywood movies, but, compared to "Lincoln", compared to "Life of Pi", compared to the "Les Miserables", you know it did not deserve to receive Oscar prize first of all.

            “There are many mistakes in the movie. For instance, you are familiar with our culture. Even the producer or the director, they are not familiar with the Iranian culture…”

            “So even that much, the producer or director or (inaudible) of the movie were not familiar with the Iranian culture. And, to be honest with you, whoever in Iran saw the film, they felt insulted by America.”

            “It was politically wrong and technically wrong and I think the producer of the film that is known as the Ambassador of Peace as I heard should be ashamed of producing such a film that, from the technical point of view, political point of view, was wrong, as well as insulting a big nation like Iran.”

            “I would like to invite the producer and the director of the film to travel to Iran and then they travel to Iran, the day after they will apologize from the big nation of Iran for producing such a weak film.”

Click here for the full transcript.


Khamenei Tweets: Iran Needs More Concessions

            On March 7, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that Western nations only acknowledged a “fraction” of Iran’s nuclear rights. “Western nations did not accomplish anything that can be construed as a concession.” His remarks to the Assembly of Experts, supplemented by several tweets, were his first public reaction to the nuclear talks in Kazakhstan held on February 26.

            Khamenei said Iran must wait until the next round of talks to assess the “integrity” of the world's six major powers — the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. Iran is scheduled to meet with them in Kazakhstan again in April.

            The Supreme Leader also tweeted a few comments on past diplomatic efforts. Khamenei claimed that he told Iranian officials to accept the 2010 nuclear deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. But the United States “would not accept it,” he wrote. Khamenei argued that the United States wanted to claim that Iran “does not accept rational solutions.” The following are his remarks and tweets on diplomacy from March 7.


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