01/09/2012, 00.00
IRAN
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Tehran sentences US “spy” to death as US-Iran tensions continue to mount

Iran threatens to block the Strait of Hormuz if steps are taken against Iranian oil exports. Tehran is forced however to thank the US Navy for rescuing 13 Iranian fishermen held by pirates near the Strait of Hormuz.
Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A court in Tehran sentenced a 28-year-old American of Iranian descent to death for spying for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "Amir Mirza Hekmati was sentenced to death ... for cooperating with the hostile country America and spying for the CIA,” the judge said. According to his family, which lives in the United States, Hekmati had gone to Iran to visit his grandmothers. The United States said the charges against the US citizen were false and demanded his release. During his trial last month, prosecutors cited a confession in which Hekmati said he wanted to infiltrate Iranian secret services for the CIA. In court, Hekmati admitted to contacts with the CIA but rejected charges that he wanted to harm Iran.

The sentence comes at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. Iranian newspaper Khorasan quoted Ali Ashraf Nouri, a top ranking official in the Revolutionary Guards, as saying that Iran’s leaders had taken the strategic decision to close the Strait of Hormuz if the West blocked Iranian oil exports. The United States and the West have threatened additional sanctions against Iran’s central bank, which would crippled Iran’s capacity to export oil, because of Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The United States will respond if Iran tries to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, a move that would cross a "red line.” US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said. “We made very clear that the United States will not tolerate the blocking of the Strait of Hormuz," Panetta said.

Panetta was backed by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “They’ve invested in capabilities that could, in fact, for a period of time block the Strait of Hormuz,” Dempsey said in an interview. However, “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.”

The Western initiative to limit Iranian oil exports is bad news for Asian economies, even though under US pressure some Asian nations have cut their purchase of Iranian oil. South Korea and Japan have decided to try to accommodate Washington's demands and China is reported to have bought less Iranian oil than usual this month. China, India, Japan and South Korea together buy more than 60 per cent of Iranian oil exports.

In the meantime, US destroyer the Kidd freed 13 Iranian fishermen held captive for more than a month on board their dhow after one of them managed to radio a plea for help.

While Iranian media did not go into detail about the rescue, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Alam, "We consider the actions of the US forces in saving the lives of the Iranian seamen to be a humanitarian and positive act and we welcome such behaviour.” Indeed, "all nations should display such behaviour,” he added.

Rear Admiral Craig Faller, who commands the John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike group, the decision to go to the aid of the Iranians was standard practice.

According to some reports, the Iranian fishermen expressed great gratitude for their rescue, with one saying, "It is like you were sent by God."
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