This undated photo released by the Michigan family of Amir Hekmati via FreeAmir.org shows the former Marine, who is being held in a prison in Iran on accusations of spying for the CIA. (Courtesy photo / AP)
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GROSSE POINTE FARMS, MICH. — U.S. Sen. Carl Levin said he hopes the election of a new president in Iran will lead to the release of a former Marine imprisoned there for two years on spying charges.
The veteran lawmaker on Wednesday joined fellow Michigan Democrat U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and supporters of Amir Hekmati at a suburban Detroit fundraiser. Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmothers in Tehran, but U.S. officials and family members deny he was spying.
“There is some reason to be hopeful there can be a new direction,” Levin said, referring to the June election of centrist President Hasan Rouhani. “I have a bit of optimism.”
Hekmati, 30, was born in Arizona and grew up in Michigan, where his parents and sister live. He carries U.S. and Iranian passports.
Iran accused Hekmati of being a CIA spy, then tried, convicted and sentenced him to death. Iran’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial last year, but he remains imprisoned.
His fortunes have improved somewhat in recent months. He was transferred earlier this year to a less-restrictive environment after 16 months of solitary confinement, and authorities also permitted family members in Iran to visit him.
Kildee called on Iran to “do the right thing and bring Amir home.”
“This is a story of a young man who served his country as a U.S. Marine and simply wanted to visit his family,” said Kildee, who last month called on Secretary of State John Kerry to push for Hekmati’s release.
The U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis, when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy and kept 52 Americans captive for 444 days. Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran.