Thursday, April 18, 2013

US working to free Americans held in Cuba, Iran: John Kerry

US working to free Americans held in Cuba, Iran: John Kerry
AFP | Apr 18, 2013, 02.03 AM IST

WASHINGTON: Washington is seeking to free two US citizens held in Cuba
and Iran, but has rejected a deal with Havana to swap a jailed American
for five Cuban spies, top diplomat John Kerry said on Wednesday.

Kerry told US lawmakers that officials were working hard to win the
release of contractor Alan Gross held for more than three years in Havana.

Senator Patrick Leahy visited the island recently, met with Gross "and
talked to the government," Kerry told the House foreign affairs committee.

"They were and have been attempting to trade Alan Gross for the five
spies that are in prison here in the US, and we've refused to do that
because there's no equivalency," the secretary of state said.

Gross, 63, was arrested on December 3, 2009 for illegally distributing
laptops and communications gear to members of Cuba's small Jewish
community. At the time, he was working for a firm contracted to the US
State Department.

In March 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for "acts against
the independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba, and relatives fear
his health is failing.

Kerry said he hoped the US could appeal to Cuban leaders to treat
Gross's case as a "humanitarian" issue.

Kerry also said he had been working through back channels to try to find
out more about retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared some
six years ago while on a trip to Iran.

"On Levinson, I have actually engaged in some back-channel diplomacy in
an effort to try to see if we can get something done there," Kerry said.

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