WASHINGTON — A Broward County man missing near Iran since 2007 may be alive and being held in southwest Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday.
Clinton said in a statement marking the fourth anniversary of Robert Levinson's disappearance that the United States "has received recent indications that Bob is being held somewhere in southwest Asia."
The statement follows reports last month in the Daily Telegraph in London that a Wikileaks diplomatic cable said that a political prisoner who managed to flee Iran suggested that missing Levinson "may have spent time in one of the Revolutionary Guard's notorious secret jails.''
The informant, who was detained in August 2009 amid the civil unrest sparked by the country's disputed presidential elections, claims that he saw the words "B. LEVINSON'' written on the frame of his cell, beneath three lines of English which he assumed to be a "plea for help.''
Other news reports said Iran's Revolutionary Guard has rejected the allegations that it ever detained Levinson.
A retired FBI agent who lived in Coral Springs, Levinson went missing on March 9, 2007, from Kish, a resort island in the Persian Gulf where he was investigating cigarette smuggling for a client of his security firm.
The United States has pressured the government in Tehran for several years to divulge what it knows. Clinton noted Thursday that as 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," she said.
Levinson's wife, Christine, has long pushed for information about her husband, traveling to Washington and Iran. She marked the 1,000th day of his disappearance in Washington with meetings at the State Department and FBI. She also met with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who has pressed authorities for answers to Levinson's whereabouts, and with National Security Adviser James L. Jones who told the family "that Bob's case remains a priority for the United States."
Nelson on Thursday called it "encouraging that we may have good news,'' adding, "I'm praying that he can be reunited with his family."
The couple has seven children and Levinson in 2009, during a trip to Washington said she was anxious for any word on her ''wonderful, loving'' husband. At that time, she said Levinson had missed three graduations, 28 birthdays, two promotions, the birth of a grandchild, three Thanksgivings, two Christmases, three wedding anniversaries and the first steps of two grandchildren.
''We have nothing,'' she said at the time. ''We don't even know if he's alive anymore. I'm hopeful, I've never heard anything that would indicate that he isn't, but I just don't know.''
His daughter Sarah, wrote an open letter to the Iranian and U.S. governments on the third anniversary of his disappearance, asking for help.
"Today, I beg of you to help bring him home as I personally need him more than ever,'' she wrote in March 2010, adding that her boyfriend had proposed marriage ''and as should be every daughter's right, I need my father to give me away at my wedding.''