U.S. call for release of Americans in Iran denied by State Dept. spox

The armed forces identification card of Iranian-American Amir Mirza Hekmati, who has been sentenced to death by Iran's Revolutionary Court on the charge of spying for the CIA,  is seen in this undated still image taken from video

Former US Marine Amir Hekmati’s ID card

WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – December 30, 2014 – The United States called on Tuesday for the release of U.S. citizens held in Iran, but denied a report that Washington had proposed a prisoner exchange for a former U.S. Marine.

A lawyer for Amir Hekmati, an Iranian-American former Marine jailed in Tehran, was quoted in a report on Tuesday on Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency as saying that the United States had sought his release through a prisoner swap.

“Those reports are not accurate,” U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told a news briefing.

“The U.S. government has not proposed a prisoner exchange for Mr. Hekmati … We do however call on the Iranian government to release Amir Hekmati immediately, as well as detained U.S. citizens Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and to assist us in locating Robert Levinson.”

Hekmati was arrested in August 2011, his family says, and convicted of spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a charge his relatives and the U.S. government deny.

Iranian-American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison last year for undermining Iran’s national security by setting up home-based Christian churches.

Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American dual citizen and the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tehran, was charged this month after being detained for more than four months.

Robert Levinson, a private detective and ex-FBI agent, disappeared during a trip to an Iranian island in 2007. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last December there were no traces of Levinson in Iran and he was not being imprisoned there.

Tasnim quoted Hekmati’s attorney Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabai as saying that the United States had made the swap request and it had been put to Iran’s judiciary, which had not yet responded.

Tabatabai did not say which individual or individuals Washington had proposed releasing in return, but the names would be made public at the Iranian judiciary’s discretion.

Calls to Tabatabai’s Tehran office went unanswered.

Hekmati’s family says he was detained while visiting his grandmother in Tehran. He was sentenced to death, but a higher court nullified the penalty in March 2012 and sent the case to another court. Hekmati went on a hunger strike this month to protest his detention.

Washington and Tehran severed relations after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The United States and other world powers are currently engaged in sensitive negotiations with Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions.

(Reporting by Michelle Moghtader in Dubai and Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans and Sandra Maler)

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This story was widely reported in media outlets across the world including the NY Times and others. Here’s how China’s official news service reported it:

US denies reports about proposed prisoner swap with Iran

China English.news.cn   2014-12-31 06:24:54

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) — The United States on Tuesday denied reports about its request for an exchange of prisoners with Iran in its efforts to secure the release of a former American Marine.

“Those reports are not accurate,” State Department spokesman Jeffrey Rathke told reporters at a daily news briefing, adding ” The U.S. government has not proposed a prisoner exchange for Mr. Hekmati. It’s not true.”

Amir Hekmati, an Iranian-American, was arrested in August 2011 on a visit to his family in Iran over the charge of being a Central Intelligence Agency spy.

The former Marine was condemned to death in January 2012 but the sentence was overturned two months later by Iran’s Supreme Court after his appeal. The country’s Revolutionary Court then charged him with “cooperating with hostile governments” and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Tehran is known to be holding two other Americans — Saeed Abedini, a pastor, and Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, while Robert Levinson, a retired agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has gone missing in the Islamic republic since 2007.

“We do, however, call on the Iranian government to release Amir Hekmati immediately, as well as detained U.S. citizens Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and to assist us in locating Robert Levinson,” Rathke said.

Hekmati’s attorney told Iran’s Tasnim news agency on Tuesday that the U.S. has asked Iran to make a swap for his client through its Interest Section in Tehran, Iran’s capital.

The Swiss embassy in Tehran represents Washington’s interests, as U.S. and Iran have cut off diplomatic ties since 1980.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

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