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Bush condemns Tehran's detention of Iranian-Americans

Story Highlights

• President Bush says 4 detained Iranian-Americans should be freed immediately
• Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari charged with trying to topple Iran's government
• State Department updated warning on travel to Iran; now mentions detentions
• Bush also mentioned former FBI agent Robert Levinson, missing since March 8
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Friday called on Tehran to release four detained Iranian-Americans "immediately and unconditionally."

"Several of our fellow American citizens -- including Haleh Esfandiari, Parnaz Azima, Kian Tajbakhsh and Ali Shakeri -- are being held against their will by the Iranian regime," Bush said in a statement released by the White House. "I strongly condemn their detention at the hands of Iranian authorities."

Authorities have confirmed that Esfandiari, Azima and Tajbakhsh are in custody, but the government has not provided any public information regarding the whereabouts of Shakeri.

According to Human Rights Watch, Shakeri was detained during a recent trip to Iran.

Earlier this week, Iran formally charged Esfandiari with trying to topple the government, according to an Iranian judiciary official. (Full story)

Esfandiari, 67, who works for the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, was jailed in Tehran on May 8 and Tajbakhsh, a sociologist, was picked up two days later.

Tajbakhsh, 45, is an independent consultant and urban planner employed by U.S. philanthropist George Soros' Open Society Institute.

Authorities have also confiscated the passport of Azima, a reporter for the Persian-language services of Radio Free Europe who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, according to Radio Free Europe.

Like Esfandiari, Azima was in Iran to visit her ailing mother.

"These individuals have dedicated themselves to building bridges between the American and Iranian people, a goal the Iranian regime claims to support," Bush said in the statement. "Their presence in Iran -- to visit their parents or to conduct humanitarian work -- poses no threat. Indeed, their activities are typical of the abiding ties that Iranian-Americans have with their land of origin."

Bush also mentioned former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing since March 8, when he was last seen on Iran's Kish Island. The president said he is "disturbed" by Iran's refusal to provide any information on Levinson, despite repeated U.S. requests. "I call on Iran's leaders to tell us what they know about his whereabouts," Bush said.

"The United States is committed to protecting its citizens at home and abroad. We will maintain our efforts on behalf of these citizens until all of them are reunited with their families," he said.

On Thursday, the State Department updated its warning about travel to Iran to include mention of the four detentions.

"Recently, Iranian authorities have prevented a number of Iranian-American citizen academics, journalists and others who traveled to Iran for personal reasons from leaving, and in some cases have detained and imprisoned them on various charges, including espionage and being a threat to the regime," the new warning reads.

"Americans of Iranian origin should consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning travel to Iran. Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals access to the United States Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States is working through the intermediary Swiss government to secure the release of those being held.


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Haleh Esfandiari is one of four Iranian-Americans being held by Tehran. President Bush on Friday called on Tehran to release the detainees.

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