Wife of missing ex-FBI agent blames Iran but critical of US

With her family sitting behind, Christine Levinson, wife of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who vanished in Iran, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington. (AP Photo)
Updated 08 March 2019
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Wife of missing ex-FBI agent blames Iran but critical of US

  • Christine Levinson told a House panel that she holds Iran responsible for the disappearance of her husband, Robert, but she also took to task three successive American administrations
  • Robert Levinson was a contractor for the CIA who traveled in March 2007 to the Iranian island of Kish - he has not been seen since except in a video sent to his family by his captors

WASHINGTON: The wife of a former FBI agent who vanished in Iran in 2007 expressed bitter frustration Thursday about efforts to get her husband back home.
Christine Levinson told a House panel that she holds Iran responsible for the disappearance of her husband, Robert, but she also said three American administrations have failed to press the Tehran government hard enough for his return.
“Time and time again, Bob has been left behind, deprioritized, or seemingly forgotten,” she said at a House hearing on the status of Americans detained in Iran.
Robert Levinson vanished while in Iran on an unauthorized CIA mission. Christine Levinson said she believes her husband is alive and that the US should press Iran harder for answers. She praised the work of “some dedicated people from various agencies” but said others in the government have not communicated with each other regarding his case, or have questioned whether he is alive and have undercut efforts to secure his release.
“My husband served this country tirelessly for decades,” she said. “He deserves better from all of us and from our government. He deserves our endless pursuit to bring him home, to fight day and night and leave no stone unturned.”
Christine Levinson testified along with Babak Namazi whose Iranian-American father and brother, Baquer and Siamak Namazi, are both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Omar Zakka also told lawmaker about his father, Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-born US permanent resident who was detained after he visited Iran in 2015 to attend a conference.
Babak Namazi said that more than two years after President Donald Trump took office, “it seems that we are not any closer in getting my family and other hostages home.” He said time is running out for his 82-year-old father. The elder Namazi’s health is rapidly deteriorating and needs to leave Iran for medical attention, the son said.
There are at least five Americans being held in Iran in addition to one US permanent resident. The United Nations said last year that arrests of Americans in Iran are part of an “emerging pattern” by Tehran targeting dual nationalities.
“I am counting on President Trump to stay good to his word that Americans will not languish in Iran when he is president,” Namazi said, citing the administration’s recent successes freeing American hostages in other countries. “I implore the president to spare no effort to bring my family and the other American hostages home from Iran.”
A hard line on Iran has been central to Trump’s foreign policy, including withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal and reinstating economic sanctions. He has pledged “serious consequences” if Americans detained in Iran are not returned.
Dan Levinson, Robert’s son, said his family has been more hopeful following the reimposition of sanctions.
“We believe after dealing with the Iranians for 12 years now that they only respond to pressure and we think that it’s the only way to bring them to the negotiating table,” he told reporters before the hearing.
Robert Levinson was a contractor for the CIA who traveled in March 2007 to an Iranian island, Kish, where he met with a US fugitive. He has not been seen since except in a video sent to his family by his captors. His wife said in her testimony that an FBI assessment of the video and photos showing him in an orange jumpsuit concluded that the Iranian government must have developed them and sent them to the family. “All the facts of the case indicate they kidnapped my husband,” she said.
Iran has said Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him.
Rep. Ted Deutch, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that held the hearing, asked the family members what their message would be to Trump.
“I would ask that he would meet with us,” Christine Levinson said. “He doesn’t know us. He doesn’t understand how difficult it is for us.”
After the hearing, Deutch, D-Fla., and three other members of Congress introduced legislation that would empower the president to impose sanctions on hostage-takers, elevate the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs to the rank of ambassador, and create an interagency group that would work on hostage recovery and response.


Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

Updated 25 May 2019
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Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is preparing a belt-tightening budget to tame its fiscal deficit, the de facto finance minister said on Saturday, adding that both civilian and military rulers agreed austerity measures were needed to stabilise the economy.
But Hafeez Shaikh, Prime Minister Imran Khan's top finance adviser, declined to say whether the military's hefty budget would be cut following last week's agreement in principle with the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion loan.
The IMF has said the primary budget deficit should be trimmed by the equivalent of $5 billion, but previous civilian rulers have rarely dared to trim defence spending for fear of stoking tensions with the military.
Unlike some other civilian leaders in Pakistan's fragile democracy, Khan appears to have good relations with the country's powerful generals.
More than half of state spending currently goes on the military and debt-servicing costs, however, limiting the government's options for reducing expenditure.
"The budget that is coming will have austerity, that means that the government's expenditures will be put at a minimum level," Shaikh told a news conference in the capital Islamabad on Saturday, a few weeks before the budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year ending in June is due to be presented.
"We are all standing together in it whether civilians or our military," said Shaikh, a former finance minister appointed by Khan as part of a wider shake-up of his economic team in the last two months.
In the days since last week's agreement with the IMF, the rupee currency dropped 5% against the dollar and has lost a third of its value in the past year.
Under the IMF's terms, the government is expected to let the rupee fall to help correct an unsustainable current account deficit and cut its debt while trying to expand the tax base in a country where only 1% of people file returns.
Shaikh has been told by the IMF that the primary budget deficit -- excluding interest payments -- should be cut to 0.6% of GDP, implying a $5 billion reduction from the current projection for a deficit of 2.2% of GDP.
The next fiscal year's revenue collection target will be 5.55 trillion rupees ($36.88 billion), Shaikh told the news conference, highlighting the need for tough steps to broaden the tax base.