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Iran Court Orders Retrial For American Convicted Of Spying Charges

Iran's Supreme Court on Monday overturned the death sentence handed down to a US national of Iranian origin by a lower court earlier this year on charges of spying for the United States. The superior court has ordered a retrial for the accused.

"There were objections to the verdict by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found shortcomings in the case and sent it for review by an affiliate court," judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei was quoted as saying at a press conference by the state-run ISNA news agency on Monday.

In January, Teheran's Revolution Court had sentenced Amir Mirzai Hekmati to death after finding him guilty of collaborating with the US government and its intelligence agency, the CIA, to implicate the Islamic Republic in sponsoring terrorism.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry had announced Hekmati's arrest on December 17. In a confession aired by Iranian state TV the following day, Hekmati had admitted to trying to infiltrate Iran's intelligence services for the CIA.

Hekmati was subsequently accused of "co-operating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism." Hekmati reportedly admitted during court proceedings that he had links to the CIA, but insisted that he did not intend to cause any harm to Iran with his actions.

"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," Hekmati was quoted as telling the court at the opening of his trial in December.

Although Iranian authorities allege that Hekmati received training at US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq before being sent to Iran, his parents living in the US state of Arizona insist that the charges pressed against their son are fabricated. They claim that Hekmati was in Iran to visit his grandmothers.

US media reports indicate that Hekmati joined the US military in 2001 and was serving as an Arabic translator in the Marines. The US government insists that he has been falsely accused by the Iranian authorities and has repeatedly called for his release.

Iran has often accused Israeli and western intelligence agencies, including the CIA, of attempting to undermine the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program. Tehran had announced in May the arrest of about 30 people after dismantling a spy network identified to have links with the CIA. In December, Iran had indicted 15 people on charges of spying for the US and Israel, but did not provide further details.

The US severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Relations between the two countries have since deteriorated over differences on Iran's disputed nuclear program. Currently, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran is looking after US interests in Iran.

Although Iran insists that its nuclear activity is intended for peaceful civilian purposes, the West suspects it just a cover up for the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapon ambitions. Iran has already been hit by four sets of UN sanctions as well as separate sanctions by individual countries, including the United States.

Iran, however, consistently denies such western allegations and maintains its uranium enrichment work is aimed at producing fuel for a medical-purpose reactor in Tehran. Iran insists that it has a right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT).

by RTT Staff Writer

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