VOA News: The State Department Wednesday called on Iran to allow two detained American women, both with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, to return to the United States. The women, an academic and a journalist, went to Iran on visits several months ago and have not been allowed to leave. Voice of America (VOA News)
By David Gollust
The State Department Wednesday called on Iran to allow two detained American women, both with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, to return to the United States. The women, an academic and a journalist, went to Iran on visits several months ago and have not been allowed to leave. VOA’s David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The State Department says the women pose no threat to the Iranian government and should be allowed to return home to their families in the United States as soon as possible.
The comments followed an announcement in Washington Tuesday that a prominent Iranian-American academic, Haleh Esfandiari, has been jailed in Iran after having been barred from leaving the country since arriving there on a visit in December to see her ailing mother.
Esfandiari, who has lived in the United States for more than 25 years, is the director of the Middle East program at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The other woman is Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for the U.S.-funded Persian language broadcaster Radio Farda. She has been barred from leaving Iran since arriving here on a visit in January, also to pay a visit to her elderly and ill mother.
In a talk with reporters, Spokesman Sean McCormack said the State Department has been in touch with the families of the two women, as well as with the relatives of a third woman with U.S. citizenship who is apparently being kept in Iran under similar circumstances, but whose family does not want her to be identified.
Spokesman McCormack said the United States is doing what it can on behalf of the detained women, but did not elaborate.
He said U.S. officials have only theories as to why the women, who had visited Iran frequently in the past, are now being held there, but said it is a reflection on the nature of the Tehran government.
“These are people who are no threat to the Iranian government and the Iranian people, who have transited back multiple times, back and forth, between Iran and the United States,” he noted. “If the regime is willing to harass these innocent people, it’s just an insight into the kind of government with which we’re dealing.”
The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979 and consular matters involving visiting Americans are handled through the Swiss government, which looks after U.S. interests there.
The State Department has made indirect inquiries to Iran through Switzerland and at least two other countries in the case of a retired U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Robert Levinson, who disappeared after he began a visit to an Iranian Persian Gulf resort several weeks ago.
U.S. officials have said they have been able to establish that Levinson arrived at Iran’s Kish Island and checked into a hotel there in early March.
They have expressed skepticism about an Iranian note passed through the Swiss government that Tehran authorities know nothing about his whereabouts. Other countries with relations with Iran have been asked by the United States to make inquiries about Levinson.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says Iranian authorities have recently also begun seizing the passports of Iranians attempting to travel to international conferences on journalism and human rights.
Human Rights Watch officials say they believe the crackdown may be a reaction to a $75 million Bush administration program, announced last year, to promote democracy in Iran through broadcasting and support, where possible, for Iranian non-governmental groups.