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Florida Senators, Reps Urge White House Push Iran to Get Bob Levinson Back Home

July 12, 2017 - 9:15am
Ted Deutch, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio
Ted Deutch, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio

Members of the Florida delegation are calling on the Trump administration to put more pressure on Iran to continue efforts get Robert Levinson, a Florida resident who has been missing in that Middle Eastern nation for a decade. 

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., led the letter, urging the White House to press Iran on the matter and calling on him to meet with Levinson’s family. Other members of the Florida delegation, including Republicans U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrats U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, signed the letter. So did a host of leading familiar faces on Capitol Hill including U.S. Sens. Corey Booker, D-NJ, Richard Burr, R-NC, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Charles Schumer, D-NY, and U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel, D-NY, and Ed Royce, R-Calif. 

Corker leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Royce chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Ros-Lehtinen is the chairwoman of the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee where Deutch sits as the ranking Democrat. 

“We write regarding former FBI agent Robert Levinson,” the senators and representatives wrote. “Bob, a beloved husband, father, and grandfather, was detained in Iran more than ten years ago, making him the longest held civilian in our nation’s history. He deserves to be reunited with his family immediately. We appreciate your commitment to Bob and his family. We urge you to meet with Bob’s wife, Christine, and their seven children to hear first-hand their struggle and tireless efforts on Bob’s behalf.

“As you know, our government has long pressed Iran to return Bob. After ten years, Bob is still not home, and despite repeated promises, Iran has yet to cooperate in any meaningful way. Iran is responsible—if Iranian officials don’t have Bob, they know where to find him,” they continued."Bob’s return is an urgent humanitarian issue. It is critical that the United States maintain pressure on Iran to see that he is returned as soon as possible. To that end, we request that you re-engage with Iran and make clear that continued delay in returning Bob—in addition to the very serious disagreements the United States has with Iran about its missile program, sponsorship of terrorism, and human rights abuses—is another obstacle Iran must overcome if it wants to improve relations with the United States. We also request that you designate a senior White House official to regularly inform Bob’s family of your administration’s efforts.

“Bob has suffered long enough,” they wrote in conclusion. “We must never rest until he is returned to his family. We owe them nothing less.”

The Florida delegation worked together last year to pass resolutions in both chambers of Congress demanding Iran offer more assistance in getting Levinson back home. Levinson worked for the FBI and DEA  went missing in 2007 during a private investigation case in Iran involving cigarette smuggling. Back in 2013, the Associated Press ran a story insisting Levinson worked for the CIA. 

Nelson and Rubio brought out the resolution in the Senate which passed without opposition in February 2016. 

“It is outrageous that the Iranian government has failed to provide information that would help bring Bob home,” Rubio said at that time. “The Obama administration missed an opportunity to make the freedom of Americans held in Iran a priority during the nuclear negotiations, and has left Bob’s case unresolved even as they have continued to make concession after concession to Tehran.

“Bob and his family deserve much better,” Rubio added. “This sends an important message that America stands with the Levinsons and we want to see the Iranian regime provide information regarding the whereabouts of Bob so that his wife and their seven children can get the answers they deserve.”

The House followed suit at the end of February 2016, passing a similar resolution from Deutch.

“For the families of the four American prisoners released by Iran earlier this year, the nightmare is finally over. But it is not over for my constituents, the Levinson family,” Deutch said on the House floor. “Bob Levinson is a patriot who loves this country dearly and devoted his life to public service. It is now time for this country to come through for Bob, and do everything in our power to bring him home.

“For anyone watching this debate today, I encourage you to tweet about Bob Levinson using the hashtag #WhatAboutBob," Deutch added. “For those in South Florida, I encourage you to come support the Levinson family this Saturday in Coral Springs. We must keep talking about Bob. We must raise the level of awareness around Bob’s case. We must encourage our government – and the governments of our friends and allies – to continue to work tirelessly to find Bob and to bring him home.”

Ros-Lehtinen also took to the House floor to showcase the “plight of Bob Levinson” and called his family’s pain “heartwrenching.” Turning her fire to Iran, Ros-Lehtinen ripped that regime‘s “continued failure" to uphold promises to help release Levinson. 

Wasserman Schultz also explained her support for the resolution. 

“We must hold Iran’s leaders accountable to every commitment they make, particularly when American lives are on the line,” Wasserman Schultz said. “As I mentioned directly to Secretary of State John Kerry last week, this month marks nine years of suffering and uncertainty for Bob’s family and friends. While I joined my colleagues and the nation in welcoming home four Americans who had also been detained in Iran earlier this year, I remain focused on ensuring Iran cooperates with ongoing efforts of the United States in Bob’s case.

“Last week, Iran’s citizens voted for a new Parliament and Assembly of Experts,” she added. “I am under no illusions that this new parliament will produce significantly different policies from the government. However, I would urge these new legislators to heed the sentiments of this resolution, and, as a meaningful humanitarian gesture regardless of any other longstanding serious disagreements, intensify cooperation with the United States. My heart continues to go out to Bob’s family and friends.”

Other co-sponsors of the resolution in the Florida delegation at that time were Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Curt Clawson, Ander Crenshaw, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and John Mica and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel, Alan Grayson, Alcee Hastings and Patrick Murphy. The measure passed on a voice vote. Clawson and Crenshaw did not run for reelection in 2016 while Mica lost his seat in November. Grayson and Murphy both looked to move up to the Senate in 2016 but Rubio kept his seat. 


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