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Middle East Digest: April 24, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 24, 2007

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The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/

From the Daily Briefing of April 24, 2007:

QUESTION: Can you give us the latest on Levinson, what outreach you've made to other governments, that kind of thing?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, let me recap for the folks. Over the weekend, we sent another note via the Swiss to the Iranians reiterating our request for information regarding Mr. Levinson's whereabouts. We also cited in that note various news stories that have popped up in the past couple of weeks concerning meetings with an individual that he might have had on Kish Island, the fact that he may have been arrested by Iranian security forces. Again, these are news reports that we can't validate, but we thought that they certainly merited the Iranian authorities looking into them and perhaps they could provide the Iranian authorities some leads as to where Mr. Levinson might be.

We have also asked two European countries to work on Mr. Levinson's behalf, knock on doors in Tehran to see if they can determine any information that might lead to determining Mr. Levinson's whereabouts. We've also contacted another country outside of Europe to assist in that regard, so that's where we stand. We still don't have what we would consider reliable information about his whereabouts and that's why we're working so hard to try to get out of the Iranian Government anything that they might know about where Mr. Levinson is.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?


QUESTION: This individual that's mentioned in these news reports, he's spoken to the Financial Times, he's also spoken to Fox News.


QUESTION: This is David Belfield.


QUESTION: He's an FBI fugitive.


QUESTION: Can you tell me a bit more about him and whether you can give any credence to his accounts?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, he's, as I understand it, wanted for murder in the United States and he's a long-time fugitive. The FBI's had some interest in seeing him return back to the United States to stand trial. We don't, as far as I know, have any contact with Mr. Belfield. You might check to see the FBI -- check with the FBI to see whether or not they have had any recent efforts to get him to return back to the United States. I can't vouch for the account that Mr. Belfield provided to the Financial Times as well as others that he met with Mr. Levinson. I can't invalidate it, but I can't confirm it for you. We sent along to the Iranians a citation from a news report that mentioned that Mr. Levinson might have met with Mr. Belfield, so again, that's an avenue that the Iranian authorities could pursue themselves.

QUESTION: Do you have reason to believe that they did not pursue these leads --

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't know, Matt. You know, we --

QUESTION: -- based on your original request?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't know, Matt, but it certainly -- they came back to us and said, "Well, we don't have any information about the person that you mentioned." I find that hard to believe, but you know, again, in doing everything that we can to seek out information on behalf of Mr. Levinson's family, to make sure that he is returned safely to his family, we're going to do everything we can. If that means going back to the Iranian authorities and citing news stories suggesting that the Iranian authorities -- to the Iranian authorities that they might provide some leads as to Mr. Levinson's whereabouts and what might have happened to him, then we're going to do it. We're also going to work with other countries to see what we can do to determine whatever information we can find out about where he may be.

QUESTION: Why won't you disclose who you're asking for help? What's the reasoning behind that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, at this point, we don't think it really helps the situation. There are a couple -- there are some countries that are willing to help us out. We don't really think that it furthers the cause of their being able to perhaps obtain information in an informal way via their contacts in the Iranian Government, for us to cite them in public.

QUESTION: Have you found out any more information as to why Mr. Levinson met with the U.S. consulate in Dubai before going on to Kish Island? And secondly, why do you find it so hard to believe that the Iranians can't find any trace of him? I mean, you don't need a visa to go into Kish. Why would they know anyway?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, just given the nature of the Iranian security apparatus, we find it hard to believe that even though you don't need a visa to arrive on Kish Island, that they don't in some way monitor the comings and goings of individuals on Kish Island, including foreign nationals. That may be making an assumption that gives them too much credit in terms of their ability to monitor those things, but I would find it surprising, given the nature of the Iranian security apparatus, that they don't have some idea about the comings and goings of foreigners on Kish Island. As for his meeting at the consulate, I don't have any particular information to offer, Sue. I can't tell you the exact nature of the conversation.

QUESTION: So what -- do you have any other information that you can give us? Have you managed to work out exactly what he was doing on Kish Island?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we have not. No.


MR. MCCORMACK: There have been a lot of newspaper reports speculating about it. But I think that until we have a chance to talk to Mr. Levinson, we're not going to know exactly what his private business was.

QUESTION: So is this for privacy reasons, though, that you're not releasing the information or because you just don't know?

MR. MCCORMACK: About what he was doing for --


MR. MCCORMACK: No, we just don't -- I can't -- we've had fragmentary accounts of what he may have been doing there on private business. But you know, again, it's not something that I would feel solid enough about offering to you as a definitive explanation of why he was going to Kish Island.

QUESTION: But can you say definitely that he was not doing the business of the U.S. Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, he was working -- he was there on private business.

QUESTION: Can you rule out the possibility at this stage of being -- he's in Iranian custody?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I can't. No, I can't rule it out. We don't know where he is. As we have said before, we suspect that he is in Iran and we make that assumption based on the fact that he did not come out from Kish Island the way he went in, that in order to get into Iran you would need a visa and to our knowledge he did not have a visa to go into Iran proper.

QUESTION: Sean, at the Iraq conference next week with the Secretary, if she happened to run into the Iranians on the sidelines of the conference, would she raise this issue with him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I haven't ruled out any particular diplomatic interaction. I don't know if the Iranians are going to be there. They haven't confirmed to the Iraqis that they are going to attend the neighbors' conference. It would be too bad if they didn't show up. It would be an opportunity for them to express their support for Iraq -- something that they said that they would like to do. Again, we will see what diplomatic opportunities there are. I'm not going to point you in the direction of the Secretary seeking out a conversation with her Iranian counterpart or the Iranian representative at the meeting. I'm not going to rule it out.

QUESTION: Would you consider this case at the top of an agenda that she might have, you know, to present to the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a lot of issues between Iran and the rest of the world and we, of course --

QUESTION: Right. Beyond the other -- I mean, obvious one.

MR. MCCORMACK: There are a number of different issues and this could be something that would be -- that would merit a U.S. representative bringing up with the Iranian Government should the opportunity present itself. But I'm not going to state that that is, in fact -- that would, in fact, be the case.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a technical question?


QUESTION: I'm assuming -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- that Mr. Levinson has not signed a Privacy Act waiver. And so I'm just wondering then when exactly did the point get reached in this case where you decided it was okay to use his name and start speaking about things that in the early stages of this that you --


QUESTION: -- weren't willing to do?

MR. MCCORMACK: It came about because his name started appearing in the press and others cited -- anonymous sources cited the fact that he was, in fact, the person. And typically with these sorts of cases, when you do get to that point where it has been commonly -- where it is a common knowledge in the press and has been reported many times over in the press that that is, in fact, the person then we decided to take the step to go ahead and acknowledge that that was the person.

QUESTION: You said that these third countries are knocking on certain doors.


QUESTION: What doors are they knocking on? I mean, where are they trying to find the information? Are they looking at morgues, for example? I mean, are you exploring the possibility that maybe he died when he was there?

MR. MCCORMACK: We look forward to seeing him back reunited with his family. I can't tell you exactly what resources these embassies might have. They're there on the ground and I'm sure that they have a number of formal and informal contacts with members of the Iranian Government. And we're asking them to use those contacts to see what they can find out.

QUESTION: What makes you so confident that he's alive?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we have no evidence to the contrary of that. And, you know, we need to operate on the basis that he will be reunited with his family in the near future, we hope.

QUESTION: The longer that he's missing is it the more likely is it that he's possibly involved now in a hostage situation, that he's being held hostage by someone or is that something you think is a possibility?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I will say it over again, we don't know where he is. That is why we are going through this exercise with the Iranian Government and as well as other governments now to try to determine his whereabouts. I can't rule out for you that he is, in fact, being held by the Iranian Government. We don't know. We'd like to get to the bottom of it.

QUESTION: Is it a fact that in any case like this, in the absence of any evidence suggesting that the person is -- the missing person has passed away, you go with the assumption that they are alive?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that you have to operate on the basis, as you point out with any of these cases, that the person is being held or in some circumstances beyond their control where they can't reach out to their family.

QUESTION: Well, what I'm getting at is there isn't something in this particular case that makes you think that this is just an assumption that goes to all cases like this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, and there's no evidence to indicate otherwise.

QUESTION: Well, is there evidence to suggest that --

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't know --

QUESTION: -- something to the contrary?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we don't know where he is. But there is no evidence to suggest that he isn't in a situation where he just can't communicate with us or with his family.

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