World

Iran calls for release of citizens detained in US

BEIRUT, LEBANON Iran demanded on Saturday that the United States release detained Iranians - a day after US President Donald Trump called on the Islamic republic to release three US citizens.

"America should quickly release Iranian prisoners in the country," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA).

On Friday, Mr Trump urged Teheran to return Mr Robert Levinson, a former law enforcement officer who disappeared in Iran more than a decade ago, and to release businessman Siamak Namazi and his father.

Mr Trump warned that Iran would face "new and serious consequences" if the three were not released.

The statement capped a week of US rhetoric against Teheran, which announced earlier this month that another US citizen, Wang Xiyue, 37, a graduate student from Princeton University, had been sentenced to 10 years' jail for spying.

Last week, Washington slapped new economic sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile programme and said that its "malign activities" in the Middle East undercut any "positive contributions" from the 2015 nuclear accord.

In October last year, an Iranian court sentenced 46-year-old Namazi and his 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, to 10 years' prison for spying and cooperating with the US.

Iran had detained Namazi in 2015 while he was visiting family in Teheran, and Baquer Namazi, a former Iranian provincial governor and former Unicef official, in February last year, family members said.

Mr Levinson, a former agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and for the Drug Enforcement Administration, disappeared in Iran in 2007.

According to the ISNA, Mr Qassemi said Mr Levinson left Iran years ago, and the country has no information on his whereabouts.

"The statements of the White House, as usual, are an example of interference in Iran's internal affairs, and the demands are unacceptable and rejected," he added.

- REUTERS

IRANdonald trumpcourt