Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    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.