US formally blames Iran for abduction, death of ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson

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The Trump administration for the primary time on Monday formally blamed Iran for the presumed death of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, publicly figuring out two Iranian intelligence officers believed accountable for his abduction and imposing sanctions in opposition to them.

Levinson disappeared in Iran below mysterious circumstances greater than a decade in the past, and although U.S. diplomats and investigators have lengthy stated they thought he was taken by Iranian authorities brokers, Monday’s announcement within the last weeks of the Trump administration was probably the most definitive task of blame to this point.

The announcement is the newest in a sequence of powerful actions the Trump administration has taken towards Iran as it really works to cement an aggressive posture that will complicate any efforts by incoming President Joe Biden and his nationwide safety crew to transform course as soon as they take workplace subsequent month. U.S. officers pre-emptively made clear Monday that no cope with Iran needs to be finalized with out offering for the discharge of Americans who stay detained there.

Besides calling out two high-ranking intelligence officers by identify, U.S. officers additionally stated the Iranian regime sanctioned the plot that led to Levinson’s abduction and lied for years about its involvement in his disappearance by disinformation campaigns aimed toward deflecting accountability and protecting up the federal government’s function.

“The abduction of Mr. Levinson in Iran is an outrageous example of the Iranian regime’s willingness to commit unjust acts,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated in a press release.

The Iranian intelligence officers, Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, are alleged to have been concerned in Levinson’s abduction and possible death. Under the sanctions, any property or belongings they maintain within the United States can be frozen. Though it’s unlikely they’ve financial institution accounts within the U.S., the sanctions might additionally restrict their actions or monetary dealing outdoors Iran. The males have met with intelligence officers from different international locations and in addition led delegations, U.S. officers say.

There was no quick response in Iranian state media Monday night time to the announcement.

In a press release, the Levinson household thanked Trump administration officers and known as Monday’s announcement “just one step in a long road toward achieving justice for him, but it is an important one.”

“Robert Levinson will never come home to his family alive because of the cruel, cynical and inhumane actions of the Iranian authorities,” the household stated. “Because of these men and others like them, our wonderful husband, father and grandfather died alone, thousands of miles from everyone he loved.”

Monday’s announcement is the newest aggressive Trump administration motion in opposition to Iran because the president two years in the past withdrew from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a signature international coverage achievement of predecessor Barack Obama.

Since then, the Trump administration has steadily ramped up strain on Iran, re-imposing a large swath of sanctions and taking different actions, together with killing the top of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in a drone strike on the airport in Baghdad this yr.

That transfer, coupled with retaliatory assaults in opposition to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, stepped-up sanctions in opposition to Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Yemen and the current killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist outdoors of Tehran that has been attributed to Israel, have left the impression that Trump is searching for to field in Biden when he takes workplace in January.

Biden has stated he desires to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal but additionally enhance and broaden on it. Those prospects might show troublesome to comprehend if the scenario escalates within the subsequent 5 weeks.

Officials stated they have been asserting sanctions now, one month earlier than Trump leaves workplace, not for any political causes however just because they’d lastly accrued sufficient data to formally maintain Iran accountable. They additionally stated that no settlement with Iran needs to be reached within the subsequent administration with out a deal to free three Americans who they stated stay imprisoned there.

The announcement comes 9 months after U.S. officers revealed that they’d concluded that Levinson “may have passed some time ago” although they didn’t disclose on the time the knowledge that led to that evaluation. Officials on Monday wouldn’t describe any extra intelligence, besides to say that every one proof they’d pointed within the route of Levinson having died in captivity.

Levinson vanished on March 9, 2007, when he was scheduled to fulfill a supply on the Iranian island of Kish. For years, U.S. officers would say solely that Levinson was working independently on a personal investigation. But a 2013 Associated Press investigation revealed that Levinson had been despatched on a mission by CIA analysts who had no authority to run such an operation. He can be 72 years outdated now.

FBI Director Christopher Wray stated in a press release that “this situation is personal because Bob served as a special agent for 22 years and will always be a part of the FBI family.”

The household obtained a video in late 2010 in addition to proof-of-life images in 2011 wherein he appeared matted with an extended beard and sporting an orange jail jumpsuit like these given to detainees on the Guantanamo Bay jail. Even then, his whereabouts and destiny weren’t recognized, and the Iran authorities has constantly denied having any details about Levinson.

Earlier this yr, a federal choose in Washington held Iran liable for his disappearance, saying the nation was “in no uncertain terms” accountable for Levinson’s “hostage taking and torture.”

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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