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U.S. asks Iran directly for help to free trio

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The United States used an international meeting on Afghanistan to make an unusual direct diplomatic overture to Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Americans delivered a letter to the Iranians at Tuesday's meeting in The Hague.

The letter asks Iran to help resolve the cases of three detained or missing Americans.

The cases, and the U.S. position on them, were already known. What's new is the Obama administration's choice to approach Iran directly, instead of through a go-between.

Clinton said she sent Iran a direct letter concerning three U.S. citizens unable to return from Iran: Robert Levinson, Roxana Saberi, Esha Momeni. Their return would be a humanitarian gesture, the letter said.

Levinson, a retired FBI agent from Coral Springs, was last seen on Iran's Kish Island on March 8, 2007. He disappeared in Iran while investigating cigarette smuggling for a client of his private security firm.

The Iranian government has said Saberi was imprisoned for doing reporting work in the country after her press credentials expired. Her parents found out about her arrest in a brief phone call from her Feb. 10. Saberi grew up in Fargo and is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran.

Momeni, a dual United States and Iranian national, was visiting Tehran to research a master's thesis on the women's rights movement in Iran. Momeni, born in Los Angeles, was arrested Oct. 15 on a traffic violation.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke had a brief but cordial meeting with Iran's deputy foreign minister.

The rare diplomatic approach was the first official face-to-face interplay between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime. Clinton cautioned that the brief talks between Holbrooke and Iranian diplomat Mehdi Akhundzadeh were cordial but not "substantive."

The meeting between Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's hand-picked Afghanistan envoy, and Akhundzadeh came on the sidelines of a session aimed at improving Afghanistan's future prospects.

Akhundzadeh pledged to help the reconstruction of its neighbor, but he criticized U.S. plans to send more troops into Afghanistan.

U.S. asks Iran directly for help to free trio 03/31/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 10:35pm]
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