Iran announced it had sentenced a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen to death as a spy, and diplomats said it had switched on a uranium enrichment plant deep inside a mountain, actions certain to infuriate the West.
The moves come at a time when new U.S. sanctions are causing real economic pain, Iran has spooked oil markets with threats to international shipping, and an election in two months is widening political divisions at home.
The United States denies Arizona-born 28-year-old Amir Mirza Hekmati is a spy, and has demanded his immediate release.
Iran has aired a televised confession, denounced by Washington, in which Hekmati said he worked for a New York-based video game company designing games to manipulate public opinion in the Middle East on behalf of U.S. intelligence.
Hekmati’s execution could still be blocked by Iran’s highest court, which must confirm all death sentences.
His family says he was visiting grandparents in Iran when he was held in December. His family was unable to hire a lawyer, and he was defended by a state-appointed advocate whom he met for the first time at the trial.
Washington says he has been denied access to Swiss diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in a country where it has had no mission since its embassy was stormed in 1979.
Hekmati previously worked as a U.S. military translator. Iran’s Farsi language is one of the two main tongues spoken in Afghanistan, and the U.S. military often deploys Americans of Iranian origin there as translators.