Trump administration sanctions Iran officials for disappearance of FBI agent

The Trump administration has sanctioned two Iranian intelligence officials who it believes are responsible for the disappearance of FBI agent Robert Levinson 14 years ago. The US did not provide evidence for its claims and nor justification for the sanctions.  

Mr Levinson disappeared in 2007 while visiting a tourist spot in Iran. He was in the country on an unauthorized mission for the CIA to collect intelligence on the country’s nuclear program.

Senior US intelligence officials claimed the accusations were the culmination of a lengthy investigation and legal process.  

The move – made in the final weeks of Donald Trump‘s presidency – is likely to place a further diplomatic strain on the already tense relationship between the US and Iran just as Joe Biden is stepping into the White House.  

A US intelligence official speaking anonymously to reporters ramped up anti-Iranian rhetoric and demanded that the incoming Biden administration cut no deals with Iran while Americans are still detained in the country.

“There should be no agreement with Iran ever again that doesn’t free Americans who are unjustly detained in that country,” the intelligence official said. “We all expect negotiations next year. That negotiation must include the return home of all the Americans unjustly detained in that country.”  

Iran is currently detaining three US citizens – Baquer and Siamak Namazi, a father and son sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $4.8m after being convicted of “cooperating with Iran’s enemies,” and Karan Vafadari, who is sentenced to 27 years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic and recruiting spies through foreign embassies.”

The move comes weeks after the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist allegedly at the head of the country’s secret nuclear weapons program in the early 2000s. Iran claims Israel was behind the attack.  

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal – was established under Barack Obama‘s presidency and abandoned in 2018 by Mr Trump. Mr Biden is likely to re-enter that deal.  

However, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country will not re-enter the deal if it means accepting any preconditions.  

“We will not accept any pre-conditions from anybody. Neither is the JCPOA negotiable, nor can we set it out on the negotiation table and discuss it part by part,” Mr Rouhani said in a televised message.  

Mr Rouhani said he is open to simply re-starting the deal with all of the original parties under all of the original language of the deal. Otherwise, he is not interested in negotiating.  

“Either everyone will implement the JCPOA as it is or they don’t,” he said. “If they do, we will too.”

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