The Trump administration for the first time Monday formally blamed Iran for the apparent death of a Jewish American FBI agent, Robert Levinson, publicly acknowledging two Iranian intelligence officers who were believed to be responsible for abduction and sanctions.
Levinson disappeared in Iran in mysterious circumstances more than a decade ago, and although U.S. diplomats and investigators have long said they believed he was taken over by Iranian government representatives , the news Monday in the final weeks of the Trump administration was the most definitive specification of the date blame.
The news is the latest in a series of difficult actions the Trump administration has taken against Iran as it works to secure an aggressive situation that could exacerbate any attempts by the New President Joe Biden and his national security team to change course dramatically once they take office next month.
U.S. officials made a clear preconception Monday that no contract with Iran should be terminated without provision for the release of Americans still detained there.
In addition to summoning two high-ranking intelligence officers by name, U.S. officials also said Iran’s regime controlled the plot that led to Levinson’s eviction and lied for years about being arrested. engaged in its vision through transformational campaigns aimed at denying responsibility and covering the role of government.
“Mr Levinson’s adoption in Iran is a terrible example of Iran’s regime’s willingness to act unfairly,” Finance Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Iran’s intelligence officers, Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, are said to have been involved in Levinson’s eviction and apparent death. Under the sanctions, any property or assets they own in the United States would be frozen. Although they do not appear to have bank accounts in the US, the sanctions could impede their transactions or financial transactions outside of Iran. The men have met with intelligence officials from other countries and also led delegations, U.S. officials say.
There was no immediate response in Iran’s state media Monday night to the news.
In a statement, the Levinson family thanked Trump administration officials and called the news Monday “just one step in a long road toward achieving justice for him, but it is an important step.”
“Robert Levinson will never come home to his family alive because of the harsh, sinister and inhumane actions of the Iranian authorities,” the family said. “Because of these men and others like them, our wonderful husband, father and grandfather died alone, thousands of miles from everyone he loved so much.”
Monday’s announcement is Trump’s latest offensive administration action against Iran since the president withdrew two years ago from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, the signature of former foreign policy Barack Obama.
Since then, the Trump administration has been steadily raising pressure on Iran, re-swearing several sanctions and taking other actions, including assassinating the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in drone strike at Baghdad airport this year.
That move, along with retaliatory attacks against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, sanctions against Iranian agents in Lebanon and Yemen and the recent killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist outside Tehran given to Israel, has abandoned the idea Trump is trying to make a box in Biden when he starts in January.
Biden has said he wants to restore the 2015 nuclear treaty but also develop and expand it. These expectations may be difficult to achieve if the situation worsens in the next five weeks.
Officials said they were announcing sanctions now, a month before Trump resigned, not for any political reasons but simply because they had gathered enough information to hold Iran formally accountable. They also said that no agreement with Iran should be reached in the next administration without an agreement to release three Americans they said are still prisoners there.
The news comes nine months after U.S. officials said they had waited for Levinson to “pass away for some time” even though they did not reveal at the time the information that led to that assessment. .
Officials on Monday would not report any additional information, except to say that all the evidence they identified regarding Levinson had died in captivity.
Levinson went extinct on March 9, 2007, when he was scheduled to meet with a store on the Kish island of Iran. For years, U.S. officials only said that Levinson worked independently on a private investigation.
But an Associated Press study in 2013 showed that Levinson was put on a mission by CIA analysts who did not have the authority to run such work. He would be 72 years old now.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement that “this situation is personal because Bob served as a special agent for 22 years and will always be part of the FBI family.”
The family received a video in late 2010 as well as proof-of-life photos in 2011 in which he appeared with a long beard and an orange jumper like the ones given to prisoners at a Guantanamo Bay prison.
Even then, his whereabouts and circumstances were unknown, and Iran’s government has consistently denied any knowledge of Levinson.
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Washington held Iran in charge of extinction, saying the country was not “in a precarious position” responsible for “Levinson’s acceptance and torture.”