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Clinton: Bob Levinson is alive and in “southwest Asia”

Former FBI agent Bob Levinson is most likely alive and imprisoned in "southwest Asia," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Thursday. "As we approach the fourth anniversary of Bob Levinson’s disappearance, we have received recent indications that Bob is being held somewhere in southwest Asia," she said. "As the Government of Iran ...

557080_swasia11_02.jpg
557080_swasia11_02.jpg

Former FBI agent Bob Levinson is most likely alive and imprisoned in "southwest Asia," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Thursday.

"As we approach the fourth anniversary of Bob Levinson's disappearance, we have received recent indications that Bob is being held somewhere in southwest Asia," she said. "As the Government of Iran has previously offered its assistance in this matter, we respectfully request the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family. We would appreciate the Iranian government's efforts in this matter."

Former FBI agent Bob Levinson is most likely alive and imprisoned in "southwest Asia," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Thursday.

"As we approach the fourth anniversary of Bob Levinson’s disappearance, we have received recent indications that Bob is being held somewhere in southwest Asia," she said. "As the Government of Iran has previously offered its assistance in this matter, we respectfully request the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family. We would appreciate the Iranian government’s efforts in this matter."

The State Department offered no details on who is holding Levinson or where in "southwest Asia" he is being held. But Clinton’s contention that he is alive and somewhere in the region is the first disclosure of new information on the case in quite a long time.

Levinson disappeared during a 2007 visit to Kish Island, a resort island owned by Iran known for its beauty and its status as a free trade zone where no entry visas are required. Levinson checked out of his hotel there March 9, 2007 but did not board his scheduled flight to Dubai.

U.S. officials have repeatedly asked the Iranian government to assist in the return of Levinson, who many believe was arrested by Iranian agents and held in Iran, at least for a time. The Iranian government has repeatedly denied knowing anything about his whereabouts.

While denying that Levinson was still working for the U.S. government, the State Department and the FBI have worked behind the scenes to try to gather information on his situation and secure his return. State Department officials have also met with Levinson’s family members several times.

"Our family is tremendously encouraged by the news Bob is alive but remains concerned for his safety and well being," Levinson’s wife Christine said in a statement Thursday.

So what was Clinton referring to when she said Levinson is in "southwest Asia?" The term is vague, even by government standards. There was a dispute over its borders in 2009 when Dennis Ross was given "southwest Asia" as his portfolio, leading State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley to define the region as Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. According to the CIA Fact Book, "southwest Asia" also includes Afghanistan.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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