Jan. 9 - The United calls for release of U.S.-Iranian man sentenced to death for spying. Katharine Jackson reports.
Iran's death sentence for American Amir Mirza Hekmati riles Washington. Arrested in December, Iran accuses the 28-year-old of Iranian descent of spying after receiving training at U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. If still unconfirmed reports of the sentencing prove true, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the U.S. would condemn the verdict. The U.S. denies Hekmati is a spy, calling on Iran to set him free. SOUNDBITE (English) STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN VICTORIA NULAND SAYING: "We've maintained from the beginning that the charges against him were a fabrication and we call on the Iranian government to release him immediately." Reported on the semi-official Fars News Agency on Monday, news of the sentencing comes the same day the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms Iran has switched on a uranium enrichment plant. Together the moves will likely heighten tension between the U.S. and Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is purely non-military but the West believes is intended to produce nuclear weapons. As tough new U.S. sanctions aim to isolate the Islamic republic, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touches down in Venezuela for a Latin American tour. Dismissing a U.S. warning to avoid ties with Iran, Venezuelan officials greet the Iranian leader with a red carpet and honor guard. The U.S. has already imposed the toughest financial sanctions yet on Iran, which could make it impossible for most countries to pay for Iranian oil. The European Union is expected to announce an embargo this month. Katharine Jackson, Reuters.