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.
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.
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.