White House condemns Iranian death sentence on former US Marine

The White House on Monday strongly condemned an Iranian court’s decision to sentence an American man to death.

State media in Iran reported that the court claimed that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a 28-year-old former U.S. Marine, had been on a spy mission in Iran for the CIA.

Hekmati — who was said to be visiting family in Iran — is the first American to receive a death sentence in the country since the Islamic Revolution began in the nation more than 30 years ago.

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Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the State Department is working through the Swiss protecting powers in Tehran to “confirm the veracity” of the news reports out of Iran.

“If true, we strongly condemn such a verdict and will work with our partners to convey our condemnation to the Iranian government,” Vietor said. “Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false.”

Vietor added that the Iranian regime “has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

The news comes at a particularly tense time for the two nations. Last week, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic oil-shipping route. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta fired back on Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that such actions by the nation would cross a "red line."

The United States is calling upon the Iranian government to grant the Swiss protecting power “immediate access” to Hekmati — who was born in Arizona and holds dual citizenship — and that the government grant the former soldier access to legal counsel and “release him without delay,” Vietor said.