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US asks Iran to free 3 Americans

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Wednesday repeated its call for Tehran to help three Americans — Robert Levinson, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini — return to their families after lengthy detentions in Iran.

The State Department said in a statement that the U.S. is "respectfully" requesting the assistance from Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, who is seen as more moderate than his predecessor. Previous requests made to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used slightly harsher rhetoric.

"President Rouhani has shared in his speeches and interviews over the past few months his hope and vision to improve the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran's relationship with the world," the statement said in the latest plea for the release of the three.

Levinson, a husband and father of seven, went missing from Kish Island in Iran in March 2007.

"His family has endured with courage and quiet dignity the pain of spending so many important family milestones without him there," the statement said.

"We call again on the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to uphold its offer to help find Mr. Levinson and return him safely to his family."

The State Department said Thursday marks the two-year anniversary of the detention of Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who has been held in Iran since August 2011 on what the U.S. claims are false espionage charges.

Abedini has been detained since September 2012. He was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs, and reportedly has suffered physical abuse in Iranian detention.

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