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Kerry in plea to Iran to release Americans

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks in Washington on July 28, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks while releasing the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom July 28, 2014, at the US State Department in Washington, DC

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday appealed to Iran to release three detained Americans including a Christian pastor and a journalist, and to help locate a US citizen missing there since 2007.

"The United States respectfully calls on the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian to their families and work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson and bring him home," Kerry said in a statement.

The request came as Washington slapped new sanctions on networks linked to Iran, stepping up pressure over Tehran's controversial nuclear program which is the subject of intense ongoing international negotiations.

Friday marks three years since Hekmati, a former US Marine, was detained on what Kerry called "false espionage charges while visiting his family" in Iran.

"He has long been separated from his family and they need him home," the top US diplomat said.

Next month marks the second anniversary of the detention of Abedini, a pastor held on charges related to his religious beliefs, Kerry noted.

Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran correspondent, was detained for security reasons on July 22, and Kerry said Rezaian is being held at an unknown location.

His wife Yeganeh Salehi, also a journalist, was detained the same day.

The Levinson case has been more protracted. The retired FBI agent disappeared in March 2007 on Kish Island.

"We are immensely concerned about his well-being and whereabouts," Kerry said, requesting that Iran "work cooperatively with us to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home."

In March in a previous appeal to Iran, Kerry described Levinson as one of the longest held American citizens in history.

The US government has repeatedly said Levinson was on a business trip when he went missing, but news reports in the past year have said the CIA had been paying him to gather intelligence.

Iran has said it is not holding him, and denies any knowledge of his whereabouts.

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