Tehran Seeks Release of Detained Iranian Citizens in U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) —
An FBI poster at a 2012 news conference, five years after Robert Levinson was kidnapped. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Iran has demanded that the United States release all detained Iranian citizens, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday.

The report quotes Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi as saying he raised the issue Friday during a meeting with an American delegation in Vienna, on the sidelines of a meeting on the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We raised the issue of the release of Iranians who are detained under the meaningless accusation of bypassing sanctions” on Iran, Araghchi was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate.

Earlier on Friday the White House threatened “new and serious consequences” for Iran unless it releases all U.S. citizens who are detained there.

The White House says President Donald Trump is prepared to act in an attempt to end Iran’s practice of using detentions and hostage-taking as state policy, but it provided no specifics about potential consequences.

Washington is urging the return of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007, and Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang, who was arrested last year.

Xiyue’s confinement became public this week after Iran’s judiciary announced his 10-year sentence.

Later on Saturday the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Bahram Ghasemi, rejected the U.S. demand, calling it “intervention” in Iranian internal affairs, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Ghasemi said Iran’s judiciary and judges are “independent” and such statements would not deter the judiciary from punishing “violators of Iranian law and national security.”

However, he added that Levinson left Iran after visiting Iran and Tehran has no information about him.

Ghasemi also reiterated the demand for the “quick” release of Iranian detainees in the U.S., and said one of the wanted Iranians by the U.S. has already died abroad. He did not elaborate.

Also detained by Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi. They were taken during the Obama administration and are also serving 10-year sentences.

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