Jewish-American Robert Levinson was not included in a prisoner exchange with Iran that came as the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and the West rolled back sanctions.
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Iran on Saturday released five Americans it was holding in its prisons or in detention, four of them as part of a prison swap which included the release of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist detained on espionage charges since 2014.
The exchange comes on “implementation day” of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal Iran concluded last year with the United States and five other major powers.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Saturday confirmed that Iran has complied with the nuclear rollback component of the deal, which will trigger immediate sanctions relief.
President Obama and the European Union immediately ordered the suspension of a range of sanctions that had been imposed on Iran because of its suspected nuclear weapons program.
According to Reuters, the United States dropped charges against or commuted the sentences of eight Iranians involved in sanctions violations.
As part of the deal, Interpol removed 14 Iranians from its wanted list. A number of news agencies initially speculated that some of those named were suspected of involvement in the deadly deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, but this proved untrue and the reports were retracted. “Speculation that any of the 14 fugitives was at all connected to the bombing in Argentina is patently baseless and untrue,” a U.S. official told JTA. “The fugitives faced sanctions or export control violations.”
Levinson, 68, of Coral Springs, Fla., has been missing for close to nine years. CNN quoted Levinson’s family as expressing happiness for the other families, but saying it was “devastated” that he was not among those released.
His family has acknowledged in recent years that Levinson, a father of seven, had been working for the CIA in a rogue operation at the time of his disappearance from Iran’s Kish Island.
Levinson is a private detective and former FBI agent. For years it had been reported that he was working as a private investigator when he disappeared.
Iran denies official involvement in his disappearance and the Washington Post quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying that as part of the exchange deal, Iran “committed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson.”
According to the Reuters report, the United States delayed sanctions targeting Iran for testing a ballistic missile late last year in order not to scuttle the prisoner exchange.
Republicans and some pro-Israel groups had criticized the Obama administration for delaying those sanctions, which would be triggered under UN Security Council resolutions and which are separate from the sanctions to be lifted under the nuclear deal.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called implementation day for the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “a turning point in Iran’s strength as a terrorist state and in its ability to pursue regional dominance” in a statement.
“These failures to penalize Iran for its irresponsible behavior, violations of international restrictions and failure to come clean on its past nuclear activities hardly inspire confidence for the strict implementation of the JCPOA,” it said.