updated 3/8/2011 3:35:48 PM ET 2011-03-08T20:35:48

Iran urged the U.S. on Tuesday to provide new information about a retired FBI agent who disappeared inside the country, and says it will keep trying to discover his fate.

"On a humanitarian basis, we will continue our efforts," to find Robert Levinson, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at a weekly briefing.

"If there is reliable information, relaying it to Iranian officials can turn this into a collective effort," he said.

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed to Iran for information about Levinson last week after Levinson's family received proof late last year that he was alive.

The State Department issued a three-sentence statement by Clinton Thursday saying there were indications Levinson was in southwest Asia and asking Iran for help.

Iran has long said it has no information about Levinson, but U.S. officials say they believe he was taken by Iranian government agents.

Mehmanparst said the statement by the U.S. government confirmed Iran's longstanding cliam that Levinson was not in Iran and the powerful security service had found no clues to his whereabouts.

Levinson retired from the FBI in 1998 and became a private investigator. He was investigating cigarette smuggling in early 2007, and his family has said that effort took him to the Iranian island of Kish, a popular resort area and a hotbed of smuggling and organized crime. It is also a free trade zone, meaning U.S. citizens do not need visas to travel there.

Story: Years after vanishing in Iran, American is alive, U.S. says

Iran shares borders with the southwest Asian countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan, raising the possibility that Levinson was shuttled into one of those countries. Both border crossings are known smuggling routes. The route into Pakistan leads into a lawless tribal region that's home to insurgents, terrorist groups and criminal organizations.

Levinson reportedly disappeared after a meeting with Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive wanted for the assassination of a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. Salahuddin has said he last saw Levinson being questioned by Iranian officials. Levinson's distinctive signature was used to check out of his hotel, but he never made it to the airport.

The AP has known about the proof that Levinson is alive since shortly after it arrived but delayed reporting it because officials said any publicity would jeopardize getting Levinson home safely. The AP is not disclosing the nature of the proof because officials believe that would hurt efforts to free him.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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