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U.S. Expanding Appeals to Iran Over Missing American

The State Department said Wednesday it is expanding appeals for information about a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran more than a month ago.

Frustrated by the lack of a response from Iran to three previous formal requests made through Swiss intermediaries about the welfare and whereabouts of Robert Levinson, the department said it is now asking other nations with ties to Iran for help.

"We are, starting today, going to approach other governments that have diplomatic relations with Iran to see if they know anything about Mr. Levinson's welfare and whereabouts and also to make inquiries on his behalf," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

"We have not yet heard back from the Iranians regarding our formal inquiry and request that they provide info regarding Mr. Levinson," he said. "They have had sufficient time to do so in order to check all the places they might need to check.

"So we think its appropriate, while also pursuing that channel, to pursue other channels as well," McCormack said.

McCormack refused to identify the countries to be contacted for help, but officials said they would likely include Muslim nations that have had longstanding ties with Iran and are friendly with the United States.

Washington broke diplomatic ties with Tehran after Iranian militant students stormed its embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held its occupants hostage for 444 days. U.S. contact with Tehran is handled through Swiss intermediaries.

Levinson, 59, of Coral Springs, Fla., retired from the FBI in 1998 and was last seen in early March on Iranian island of Kish where he was on private business.

There have been several reports that he is being held in Iran, possibly as a hostage to trade for five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq, but the State Department says it has no way to confirm them and no reason to believe they are credible.

The department made its most recent appeal for information about Levinson through the Swiss last weekend after Iran replied to two earlier requests by asking for more information about the case.

On Monday in Florida, Levinson's wife issued a plea for information on the whereabouts of her husband, who was believed to be on the island, known for its beaches, sea turtles and relatively liberal atmosphere, researching a project for an independent filmmaker.

U.S. citizens are not barred from traveling to Iran but must obtain a visa, although no Iranian visa is required to visit Kish island.

Levinson's disappearance was first reported during the crisis over 15 British sailors and marines seized by Iran from the Persian Gulf, but U.S. officials have said repeatedly there is no connection between the cases.