Obama Asks Iran for 'Safe Return' of Former FBI Agent

Wife believes 'just a matter of time' until return of Robert Levinson.

ByABC News
November 26, 2013, 10:34 AM

Nov. 26, 2013 — -- As the ink dries on the new Iranian nuclear deal, President Obama moved today to push the Middle Eastern nation to help return former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran's Kish Island in 2007.

"Today, Mr. Levinson becomes one of the longest held Americans in history," said a White House statement. "As we approach the upcoming holiday season, we reiterate the commitment of the United States Government to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home safely to his family, friends, and loved ones. We welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation, and we respectfully ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to assist us in securing Mr. Levinson's health, welfare, and safe return."

Levinson disappeared in March 2007 after he traveled to Kish Island off Iran's southern coast. The 65-year-old is a retired 28 year veteran of the FBI and DEA who was in the country as a private investigator.

FBI Director James Comey said Monday that despite working the case for the better half of a decade, the Bureau's "exhaustive efforts have not yet been successful in locating Bob or establishing a dialogue with those who are holding him."

Still, a family friend told ABC News today that the family sees renewed hope for Levinson's safe return, given the warming relationship between Washington, D.C. and Tehran, most recently signaled in Sunday's temporary nuclear deal.

READ: Iran Checklist - What Needs to Happen (and What Could Go Wrong)

In January Levinson's family released a series of images showing him draped in chains and dressed in what appears to be a mock prison uniform. In each image, he holds up a sign, one of which says "Help me."

Authorities do not know or have not publicly identified Levinson's suspected captors, but the U.S. government has repeatedly asked the Iranian government's help in finding him. The Associated Press reported in January that American intelligence officials suspected the Iranian government, specifically its intelligence services, was behind the production of the images released by the Levinson family as well as a "proof of life" video.

Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow and former State Department senior advisor on Iran, told ABC News he believes the Iranian leadership knows where Levinson is and said the ex-federal agent's release would be considered a "critical goodwill gesture" by the Iranian government.

FULL COVERAGE: Robert Levinson

Christine Levinson, Robert's wife, wrote Monday that the pain of her family gathering for their seventh Thanksgiving without her husband will be "almost impossible to bear."

"To whoever is holding Bob, I ask again for your mercy," she said in a statement on HelpBobLevinson.com. "Bob, if somehow you see or hear these words: Stay strong. You have a new grandson, just a month old. We can't wait for you to meet him. We love you and will never stop working to bring you home safely."

Today marks Levinson's 2,455th day in captivity, passing the 2,454 days Terry Anderson spent in captivity after being kidnapped by Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Beirut in the 1980s.

Iran has said it is holding Amir Hekmati, a young Iranian-American who was arrested in Teharn in 2011 as he was visiting his grandmothers. Iran claimed the former Marine was a spy and sentenced him to death before overturning that sentence. Another Iranian-American, pastor Saeed Abedini from Idaho, was arrested in Iran and sentenced to eight years for what the State Department said were his "religious beliefs."

READ Exclusive: Father of American 'Spy' Calls Iran Claims 'Bunch of Lies'

CLICK HERE to return to the Investigative Unit homepage.