U.S. citizen’s death sentence heightens tensions with Iran

The New York Times reports: Iran’s judiciary yesterday sentenced to death an imprisoned American convicted of espionage for the CIA, a punishment that shocked his family and was imposed against a backdrop of increasingly bellicose relations with the United States over the disputed Iranian nuclear program.

The sentence against the American, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, a retired Marine, was likely to become a new point of contention, and possible bargaining leverage, in Iran’s struggle against the West over its nuclear program. A tightening vise of sanctions, which threaten vital oil sales and with them Iran’s economy, has left Tehran feeling besieged and has pushed relations with the United States and its allies to the lowest ebb since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In retaliation, Tehran announced on Sunday that it had begun to enrich uranium at a second site, after having threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to shipping, a measure that would severely curtail oil shipments.

The details of the case against Hekmati have been cloaked in secrecy since he was detained in August in Iran, to which his family said he had traveled to visit his grandparents. Official confirmation that he was even in Iranian custody was not provided until last month. The White House and the State Department, noting that Iranian prosecutors have a history of coercing confessions, denied that Hekmati was a spy and called for his immediate release. The CIA declined to comment.

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