The administration of President Donald Trump urged the Iranian regime on Nov. 4 to release American citizens in its custody.
The call came on the 40th anniversary of the day that Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 50 Americans hostage for over 14 months.
The American captives “are a grim reminder that the regime is fundamentally exactly the same as it was 40 years ago,” a senior administration official said during a Nov. 4 conference call with reporters, noting that the hostage crisis anniversary “is an excellent opportunity for the Iranian regime to renounce its current practice of hostage-taking, and immediately and unconditionally release all unjustly detained Americans on Iranian soil in a sign that they are truly ready to rejoin the international community.”
Four Americans are known to be currently detained by Tehran: two on espionage charges, one for unknown reasons, and one for “collaborating with enemy states,” according to the advocacy group Center for Human Rights in Iran.
In addition, former FBI agent Robert Levinson is believed to be held by Iran, although his circumstances are unknown. The administration announced an offer of up to $20 million for credible information leading to Levinsons safe return, an administration official said during the conference call.
Levinson disappeared in Kish Island, Iran, on March 9, 2007. The last picture his family saw of him alive is from April 2011, the official said. Iran previously denied holding Levinson.
In 2009, the FBI, under Director Robert Mueller, asked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to spend millions on an operation to locate and free Levinson, according to a 2018 report by investigative journalist John Solomon.
The mission, which uncovered photos indicating that Levinson was alive, was thwarted by the State Department, then led by Hillary Clinton, which was “uncomfortable with Irans terms [for Levinsons release], according to Deripaskas lawyer and the Levinson family,” Solomon wrote, saying Deripaska was still rewarded by repeatedly being allowed to travel to the United States, despite allegations of ties to organized crime.
The reward for information on Levinson, which was first set on $1 million in 2012, was raised to $5 million in 2015.
Also on Nov. 4, the administration imposed sanctions on nine appointees and representatives of Irans Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, including Ebrahim Raisi, who is responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings, including executions of seven children by the regime, one official said.
Two of the sanctioned people have also been linked to the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. service members, and the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a Nov. 4 statement.
The sanctions add to an already extensive number imposed on Iran and its leadership by the administration upon Trumps withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year.
Violating the Deal
Iran announced on Nov. 4 that its doubled the number of uranium centrifuges it operates, to 60 from 30, further violating the deal it made with world powers in 2015.
Iran has repeatedly announced actions in violation of the deal, trying to pressure its European signatories to make up for the economic impact of the U.S. sanctions since the United States withdrew from the deal.
Tehran has gone from producing about one pound of low-enriched uranium a day to 11 pounds a day, said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
Iran is currently enriching uranium to 4.5 percent, in violation of the accords limit of 3.67 percent. At the 4.5 percent level, its enough to help power Irans Bushehr reactor, the countrys only nuclear power plant, but not enough to develop a nuclear weapon.
Increased centrifuge capacity could allow Iran to cut the time it needs to produce a nuclear weapon sooner than the previously estimated one year. Salehi also announced that Iran is working on a prototype centrifuge, which would work 50 times faster than the ones allowed under the deal.
Trump has criticized the deal for only delaying Irans nuclear ambitions by about a decade and leaving out a plethora of other grievances the United States has had with the mullah regime, including the development of ballistic missiles and supporting terrorists and militants across the Middle East.