msnbc.com news services
updated 12/27/2011 5:26:18 PM ET 2011-12-27T22:26:18

An American man accused by Iran of working for the CIA could face the death penalty, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Tuesday.

In a closed court hearing, the prosecution applied for capital punishment, the report said, because the suspect, identified as Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, "admitted that he received training in the United States and planned to imply that Iran was involved in terrorist activities in foreign countries" after returning to the U.S.

The report said Hekmati repeated a confession broadcast on state TV Dec. 18 .

Under the Iranian law spying can lead to death penalty only in military cases.

'A new source'
The Fars report said Hekmati's lawyer, who was identified only by his surname, Samadi, denied the charges.

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In court on Tuesday, Hekmati confessed to having links with the CIA but said he had no intention to harm Iran.

"I was deceived by the CIA ... Although I was appointed to break into Iran's intelligence systems and act as a new source for the CIA, I had no intention of undermining the country," Fars quoted Hekmati as saying.

No date for the next court hearing was released.

On Tuesday U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was aware of news reports indicating that Hekmati's trial had started and again urged Tehran to release him immediately.

He said that Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries, had formally requested permission for consular access to Hekmati on December 24 but that Iran had again refused.

Hekmati, 28, was born in Arizona. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, who lives in Michigan, said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

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Iran charges that as a U.S. Marine, he received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission.

Current and former U.S. government officials told Reuters in November that Iran had succeeded in uncovering the identities of several CIA informants.

The United States is leading efforts to tighten sanctions on Iran which it accuses of seeking nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies. Washington and Israel say they do not rule out making military strikes on Iran's nuclear sites if diplomacy fails.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Bachmann: ‘Iran must never have a nuclear weapon’

  1. Closed captioning of: Bachmann: ‘Iran must never have a nuclear weapon’

    >> let me ask you quickly about foreign policy . you had a back and forth with congressman paul about the threat that is posed by iran . what do you think is the best way to deal with that emerging threat? and you don't believe that the united states can be in the lead in attacking iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon , do you?

    >> we have a very serious problem on our hands. i sit on the intelligence committee in the house of representatives . we have a very serious problem. we have the iaea report, which i have with me, it was released in early november . and this tells the world, from the international atomic energy agency , that there is a very real threat and a likelihood that iran could very soon gain a nuclear weapon .

    >> but my question --

    >> that's something that the world needs to grapple with.

    >> what would you do, what would president bachmann do to deter that threat? you don't believe the united states should lead an attack, do you?

    >> i would have every alternative, and option on the table, because iran must never have a nuclear weapon , because they have stated unequivocally, once they gain a nuclear weapon , they will use that weapon to wipe israel off of the map, and they will use it against the united states . as recently as august, and september of this year the president of iran again declared that sentiment. and if there's anything that history has taught us in the last 100 years, it is this, when a mad man speaks, we should listen. and i take this threat very seriously, because more than anything, i believe in the safety and security of the american people .

    >> just to be clear, in 2008 , you told your hometown paper, when this threat was still very present, that the united states cannot lead this effort because we have too much work to do in iraq, and afghanistan. has your view changed?

    >> well, i don't know what you're referring to. but this is my opinion, is that we need to stand for our own safety, and our own security, and if you -- if we have a nation that is intending to use a nuclear weapon against us, or against our ally israel, this will change the course of history forever. this must never happen. we need to look this threat in the eye, and the problem with ron paul is that his statements were very dangerous. he was denying the international atomic energy report, first that it existed, second, that it meant anything. and this is something that's very real, very serious, and we need to take that on. the next president of the united states needs to appreciate this threat, and needs to know exactly what to do to address this threat.

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