The Iranian government has told the United States that it has no information about a former FBI agent who has been missing in Iran for more than a month, the State Department said Thursday.
In a brief message passed through Swiss intermediaries, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it had no record of Robert Levinson, who was last seen on the Iranian island of Kish in early March, spokesman Sean McCormack said.
“They said that they didn’t have any information regarding the individual that we described” in three formal requests about Levinson’s status, he told reporters.
Officials said the United States is skeptical of the response because it believes Levinson is in Iran and has no reason to think he left Kish island, where he had been on private business before being reported missing by his family and employers on March 11.
“We’re going to continue to pursue it with the Iranian government,” McCormack said. “We have assured ourselves to a reasonable degree that he is actually in Iran. We know that he went there. We’re pretty sure that he didn’t leave.”
The mystery over Levinson’s fate has now dragged on longer than any of the other two-to-three cases a year involving U.S. citizens missing in Iran, which are usually resolved in several days, he said.
Iran’s reply came through the Swiss Embassy in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, after the State Department announced it was expanding appeals for information about Levinson by asking more nations with diplomatic ties with Iran for help.
Washington broke diplomatic ties with Tehran after Iranian militant students stormed its embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held its occupants hostage for 444 days. U.S. contact with Tehran is handled through the Swiss.
But McCormack said the State Department would contact at least two other European countries “to see if they can knock on a few doors with their government contacts and get any more information about Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts.”
That move came as U.S. officials expressed frustration with the lack of response at the time from Iran to its appeals for information, the first of which was made through the Swiss shortly after Levinson was reported missing.
There have been several reports that Levinson, 59, of Coral Springs, Fla., who retired from the FBI in 1998, is being held in Iran, possibly as a hostage to trade for five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq.
But U.S. officials say they have no way to confirm the reports and no reason to believe they are credible.
On Monday in Florida, Levinson’s wife issued a plea for information on the whereabouts of her husband, who was believed to be on the Persian Gulf island, known for its beaches, sea turtles and relatively liberal atmosphere, doing research for an independent filmmaker.
U.S. citizens are not barred from traveling to Iran but must obtain a visa, although no Iranian visa is required to visit Kish island.
Levinson’s disappearance was first reported during the crisis over 15 British sailors and marines seized by Iran from the Persian Gulf, but U.S. officials have said repeatedly there is no connection between the cases.