Family of missing agent criticises Iran over prisoner swap offer

Bob Levinson has not been seen since he disappeared from the island of Kish in 2007

This Image provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) shows a photo of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing on Kish Island, Iran, on March 9, 2007, shackled and holding a sign. The United States announced a $5 million increased reward March 9, 2015 for information leading to the return of Levinson, as it marked the eighth anniversary of his mysterious disappearance in Iran. The FBI had previously issued a $1 million reward for Levinson's return in 2012, five years after he went missing.    AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT / FBI                         == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE / MANDATORY CREDIT: "AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT / FBI "/ NO MARKETING / NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS / NO A LA CARTE SALES / DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS == (Photo by -- / FBI / AFP)
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The family of the longest-serving US prisoner in Iran has accused the regime of “hypocrisy on an international scale” following its offer of a swap of detainees.

Iran’s foreign ministry has sent a list of names of the people it wants freed, despite months of tensions between the two countries over the US’s decision to end the 2015 nuclear deal, drone strikes on Saudi oil targets and attacks on shipping in the Gulf.

Iran did not give details of the names on the list or identify the citizens from the US and other Western countries that it was offering to release in return.

The family of Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who has been missing since 2007, demanded his immediate release to signal Iran’s willingness to act over the issue.

Mr Levinson – who the family described as “America’s longest held hostage” - was snatched while investigating a cigarette smuggling racket in the island of Kish off Iran’s southern coast.

“The US government continues to make it clear to Iran that Bob Levinson’s return is an absolute priority,” said his family in a statement. “Until the Iranian authorities return Bob Levinson home to his family, their prisoner exchange rhetoric is nothing by hypocrisy on an international scale.”

Mr Levinson’s family has claimed in court papers that Iran previously sought to tie his release to the return of a Revolutionary Guard general who defected to the West.

Iran says that Mr Levinson, 71, is not in the country and that it has no further information about him. His family, who only knew that he was held following the release of hostage footage by unknown captors, holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.

Foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said he hoped to hear “good news” about the release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani, one of about 20 people Iran claims to be held in the US on sanctions charges.

Mr Soleimani was arrested last year and accused of violating trading sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. Mr Zarif raised the issue last month during his visit to the UN General Assembly, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

The US has not responded to the request and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month declined to comment about a similar offer from Iran.

But there were signs of a potential deal following the deportation last month of Iranian Negar Ghodskani, who was accused of conspiracy to illegally export restricted technology.

In June, Iran released Nizar Zakka, a US permanent resident from Lebanon, who was freed after serving less than four years of a 10-year term for espionage-related offences.

Mr Trump's new national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, who previously worked as the special envoy for hostage affairs, told The National in April the administration would not agree to prisoner or cash exchanges.

“If the Iranians don’t come to the table and if the Iranians don’t start releasing hostages, the sanctions will get worse and isolation continue,” he said.

The following month, Iran sentenced former US navy cook Michael White to ten years in prison, the first American to be jailed there since Donald Trump became president.