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U.S. Urges Iran To Grant Access To Jailed Journalist

Roxana Saberi
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States has urged Tehran to grant consular access to an Iranian-American journalist jailed in Iran, whose father said she has become "suicidal" since her January incarceration.

"We are now are pushing for, through the Swiss, consular access, which we feel is particularly necessary at this time," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said at a briefing.

Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Tehran, as Washington does not have diplomatic ties with Iran.

Duguid said the State Department had spoken to jailed freelance journalist Roxana Saberi's father on March 24 after he talked earlier in the day via telephone with his daughter.

U.S.-born Saberi has worked for National Public Radio, the BBC, ABC News, and other international media outlets.

"As you can imagine, her father's very concerned about her well-being, as are we, as certainly is Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton," Duguid said.

Clinton has called for the reporter's immediate release. She was jailed on January 31 and is in Tehran's Evin prison.

Clinton may meet the Iranians next week on the sidelines of a conference in The Hague on Afghanistan, although the State Department has made clear nothing has been planned and an agenda has not been drawn up for discussion.

On March 24, Reza Saberi told Reuters he was "very worried" about his 31-year-old daughter after speaking to her via telephone.

"She is pretty suicidal," said the elder Saberi, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota. "She is saying she will go on a hunger strike if they keep her there. I tried to calm her down. I told her we are doing everything and to just hold on. Don't give in. We will try to secure her release."

Saberi said his daughter told him she had met with a prosecutor in Tehran and had been told she may be in prison for several months, and possibly up to two years.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman had said Saberi was working illegally after her press card was withdrawn two years ago. Saberi's father said she was arrested ostensibly for buying a bottle of wine, banned under Iran's Islamic law.

‘Excellent Opportunity’

In another case, Clinton also has urged the Iranians to provide information concerning a 61-year-old former FBI agent, Robert Levinson, who went missing in March 2007 while on a business trip to the Iranian island of Kish.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson wrote to Clinton on March 25 and urged her to raise Levinson's case with the Iranians while at The Hague for the Afghanistan conference.

"I believe this is an excellent opportunity for the U.S. to press the Iranians directly to cooperate with the Swiss and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the investigation into Mr. Levinson's disappearance," Nelson said in his letter.

A meeting between Clinton and the Iranian delegation at the Afghanistan conference would be in line with the Obama administration's policy of reaching out to Iran on a range of issues, from its nuclear program to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I believe that the U.S. has an obligation to prioritize the case of this missing American in the context of any potential improvement in relations and cooperation between the U.S. and Iran," said Nelson of Levinson's case.