Jan. 7, 2019- The New York Times – By Rick Gladstone –Iran has been holding an American Navy veteran in prison on unspecified charges since late July, when he was seized while visiting an Iranian girlfriend, his mother said Monday.
The imprisonment of the veteran, Michael R. White, 46, from Imperial Beach, Calif., could further complicate relations between the United States and Iran. Tension between the countries worsened substantially after President Trump renounced the nuclear accord with Iran last May and reimposed severe sanctions.
At least three other American citizens, two of them of Iranian descent, have been incarcerated in Iran for years. Another American has been missing in Iran for more than a decade.
Mr. White’s mother, Joanne White, said in a telephone interview that he had been set to return from Iran via Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, on July 27, but never boarded his flight.
Ms. White said that she had filed a missing-person report afterward and that the State Department and Department of Homeland Security had been in touch with her about trying to locate him. She learned only three weeks ago from State Department officials that he was in an Iranian prison, Ms. White said.
“All I know is that he is alive and they were putting in a request for a consular visit by the Swiss,” she said.
Switzerland’s embassy represents the interests of the United States in Iran. Diplomatic relations were severed after the hostage crisis in Tehran nearly 40 years ago.
Mr. White’s possible incarceration was reported earlier Monday by Iranwire, an online news service run by Iranian expatriates, in an article titled “Is There an Unknown American Prisoner in Iran?” It was based on an account of a former Iranian prisoner who was quoted as saying he had met Mr. White at Vakilabad Prison in the city of Mashhad in October.
Mr. White’s mother said he had visited Iran “five or six times” to see an Iranian woman she described as his girlfriend. How they met is unclear.
Ms. White said she had no idea what charges, if any, had been lodged against her son.
She said that before her son’s last visit to Iran, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a neck tumor. He also suffers acute asthma, she said.
The Iranwire account included a link to a Google cache of photographs that included Mr. White and a woman described as his Iranian girlfriend, who was not further identified. Ms. White confirmed the photos showed her son.
Asked for comment, a State Department official said in an emailed response: “We are aware of reports of the detention of a U.S. citizen in Iran. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad. Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional information to provide at this time.”
Iran’s United Nations mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There has been no mention of Mr. White’s incarceration in Iran’s state-run press, but that would not be unusual. The Iranian authorities did not publicize the imprisonment of another American, Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student, for nearly a year before disclosing it in July 2017.
The prisoner issue has long added to the tensions between Iran and the United States.
The last time Iran released any imprisoned Americans was when the nuclear agreement took effect in January 2016. The Iranians released four Americans, including Jason Rezaian, the former correspondent for The Washington Post. The United States released several Iranians held on sanctions violations.
Besides Mr. White and Mr. Wang, Iran is also known to be holding Siamak Namazi, a businessman, and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former diplomat for the United Nations Children’s Fund. Both are naturalized American citizens.
In addition, the United States has repeatedly asked Iran for information concerning the whereabouts of Robert A. Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent who disappeared in the country in 2007. His family in the United States has held out hope that he is alive.
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Alain Delaquérière contributed research.