Source: Radio Zamaneh
The United States has condemned the death sentence handed to Amir Mirzai Hekmati, the U.S. citizen of Iranian origin accused of espionage, saying the charges against him are "false."
Iran has accused Hekmati of being trained at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then entering Iran in order to infiltrate its intelligence and relay information back to U.S. forces.
However, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor denied the accusation, saying: "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."
Hekmati has been charged with collaborating with "hostile countries" and with belonging to the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism.
In the U.S., Hekmati's father told the media that his son is innocent and that he had gone to Iran to visit his grandmother.
Amir Mirzai Hekmati, who was born in the United States, is a former U.S. Marine.
He was shown on Iranian national television "confessing" to the charges Iran brought against him.
Amir Mirzai Hekmati was one of the subjects of questions by reporters on Monday at the press conference by the spokesperson of the U.S. Department of States
U.S. Department of States Daily Press Briefing (excerpts) -
January 9, 2012, Washington, DC
Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson
QUESTION: Can we start with the charges - or the sentence - against the American in Iran? Are you at this point able to confirm that sentence? Have you been able to speak through somebody to him at - in any way?
MS. NULAND: We’ve seen the press report on the sentencing, but we have not, ourselves, been able to independently confirm it. We are working now through the Swiss protecting power in Tehran to confirm the sentence. We have also not been able to be in contact with him, nor has the Swiss protecting power despite the fact that the Swiss have asked numerous times for access to him and are asking, obviously, again today.
If it is true that he has been so sentenced, we would condemn this verdict in the strongest terms, and we are working with all of our partners to convey that condemnation to the Iranian Government. 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.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you just real quick - you have travel warnings and various alerts on Iran, and you warn people not to go to the country. In this case, he also, I think, had a security clearance. Is this something that was inadvisable of him to have traveled to the country? Would you tell other Americans of Iranian origin, “Just stay away from the country”?
MS. NULAND: Look, we do have travel warnings that are very specific for American citizens, and we have a specific reference in those travel warnings to the dangers for dual Iranian American citizens, because the Iranian Government doesn’t recognize dual citizenship. So we would refer all Americans to the travel warnings on our website, State.gov, and particularly, we urge Iranian Americans to take particular care.
QUESTION: When you say take particular care, what does that mean? I mean, they really - when you go to the country, you’re at the whim of the authorities there. How are they supposed to take particular care? Or are they supposed to really think only if it’s absolutely necessary do they travel there?
MS. NULAND: Again Brad, I think we spell it out quite clearly in the travel notice, so I would just refer folks there.
QUESTION: New topic?
MS. NULAND: Still on this one?
Kirit. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I understand it’s a bit of a hypothetical, but I’m curious if you would indulge me on - if they were to go ahead and carry out this sentence, what exactly would that mean for - how would the U.S. respond to that case?
MS. NULAND: I think you are taking us into hypotheticals, and we’re focused now on determining whether, in fact, we can confirm this sentence, trying to get access to him through the Swiss, but making absolutely clear that we consider that the charges are a fabrication and he ought to be released.
QUESTION: Okay, and then one other one I had was, in your statement that you put out earlier this morning you said that you denied any link to the CIA. I’m curious whether you would go any broader and say he had no ties to any element of the U.S. intelligence community.
MS. NULAND: Again, I think the statement that we put out this morning speaks for itself. I don’t think we need to go any further than what we’ve been saying, which is we consider these charges a complete fabrication.
QUESTION: Is that a yes or a no?
MS. NULAND: You know that I’m not going to get into precise intelligence issues, but I think our statement is quite strong and quite unequivocal on these issues.
QUESTION: Just a couple of things also on Iran: One would be, now that the trip by President Ahmadinejad has begun - I know you addressed this on Friday - but do you have any further thoughts about their - his trip in territory - in Latin America, and what - how the U.S. looks at this? Is this interference? What do you think they’re trying to accomplish?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’d have to speak to the Iranians about what they’re trying to accomplish. They obviously carefully chose these countries to visit. We are, meanwhile, calling on all of these countries to do what they can to impress upon the Iranian regime that the course that it’s on in its nuclear dialogue with the international community is the wrong one, and frankly, we think it’s in the interest of all countries, including the countries that he’s visiting in Latin America, that Iran prove the peaceful intent of its nuclear program to the world.
QUESTION: And how is it going with the Europeans in terms of their intent, it appears at the end of the month, to increase sanctions quite severely on oil?
MS. NULAND: Well, we did speak about this a couple of times last week. We’re encouraged by the signs that we’ve seen that they seem to have some preliminary agreement. This is something that we strongly support. They have to obviously finish their work and make their own decisions, which we hope to see towards the end of this month.
QUESTION: Just a quick one back on Mr. Hekmati: Your statement said that the Iranians have a history of using Americans essentially as political - imprisoning innocent Americans for political reasons. I’m wondering, is that what you’re saying is going on in this case? Do you read - what’s the timing? Do you read anything into the timing of this case? And do you think that he is basically being held as a political hostage because of the broader tensions in the relationship?
MS. NULAND: Well, I can’t speak to the specific timing. You know that we’ve had trouble for decades, arguably, with the Iranians seizing Americans, falsely imprisoning them, holding them for long periods, trying them in inappropriate circumstances, et cetera. So this is not a new tactic on the part of the Iranian Government. I would simply say that these particular proceedings were conducted in secret, there was inadequate legal counsel, we obviously dismiss the accusations one way or the other, we believe that any confession he may have made was clearly coerced. So it’s just par for the course in terms of the non-justice in the Iranian system.
QUESTION: And then a follow-up on the nuclear issue: The Iranians said today, and the IAEA later confirmed, that they have started enrichment in an underground facility at Fardo. I’m wondering, do you have any reaction to this? Are you heartened by the fact that the IAEA says that it actually has all of the nuclear material under surveillance? Is this a step forward?
MS. NULAND: Well, on the contrary. I think the fact that the IAEA has made clear that they’re enriching to a level that’s inappropriate at Fardo is obviously a problem. We are closely monitoring their nuclear program in general, and this development, given their track record and what the IAEA inspectors have been able to report, it’s not a surprise to us what we’re hearing.
But obviously, if they are enriching at Fardo to 20 percent, this is further - a further escalation of their ongoing violations with regard to their nuclear obligations, including the legally binding UN Security Council resolution. So obviously, we call on Iran once again to suspend enrichment activities, cooperate fully with the IAEA, and immediately comply with all Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions.
QUESTION: But doesn’t the IAEA - I mean - and just set me straight if I’m wrong here, but if the IAEA has this under surveillance, doesn’t that mean that the Iranians are cooperating with them to some degree?
MS. NULAND: Well, the IAEA has been able to get into Fardo on and off. They’ve been able to get into some facilities at some times. But what they’re finding, as they get in there, is that Iran is not complying with its obligations.
So Iran plays this game with the inspectors, they let them go some places at some times when it seems to suit their purposes, but that doesn’t change the fact that what the inspectors are now reporting is that they are taking the next step and escalating their violations of their own commitments.
QUESTION: New topic?
QUESTION: Could you specifically say how are they escalating? I mean, if they’re doing 20 percent, right, is that the - is that exceeding their requirements? What specifically are they doing that --
MS. NULAND: When you enrich to 20 percent, there is no possible reason for that if you’re talking about a peaceful program. So it generally tends to indicate that you are enriching to a level that takes you to a different kind of nuclear program.
QUESTION: On Iran, Secretary Burns is in Turkey. The Turks have not been in agreement with the sanctions. They're still going to do some purchases this year. Is the U.S. concerned that an important country in the region is obviously in opposition to the sanctions? Doesn't that affect the overall solidarity of the sanctions regime, call it into question somewhat? And do you have anything coming out of his meetings with the Turks on this particular subject?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I'm going to reject the premise of your statement. We have, over many months, been in close contact with the Turkish Government at all levels working on the situation in Iran. We - the United States and Turkey - share the strategic objective of trying to get Iran back into compliance with its international obligations and coming clean on its nuclear program. Those - that view from the Turkish side was reaffirmed as recently as this weekend, when we had a - some senior members of Congress and our ambassador to Turkey met with the entire Turkish leadership. And as you say, Deputy Secretary Burns is in Turkey for - also to talk about Iran, among many other subjects that we work on together.
So from the strategic perspective, we believe that we share the same goals as Turkey, that Turkey is looking hard at what it can do to continue to implement sanctions, but they are neighbors, and there are other aspects of trade on the civilian side that do go forward from Turkey. But what's important is that we stay in close consultation on how we can maximize the pressure on Iran to come back into compliance, and that's what we're doing with these intensive series of consultations that we're having.
QUESTION: Obviously you share the same goals, but doesn't seem like you want to share the same methods, that Turkey is not favorable to the sanctions, especially because I think they purchase one third of their oil from Iran.
MS. NULAND: Again, one --
QUESTION: So they have a different way of looking at - it seems to me, than the one expressed by the U.S.
MS. NULAND: Well, one of the purposes - one of a number of purposes of Deputy Secretary Burns' stop in Ankara is to talk to the Turkish Government about the new legislation, about its implications, and about how we can work together to achieve the goal of less international dependence on Iranian oil, because we firmly believe that if we can cut down on international purchases, it will continue to pinch Iran. So that's one of the issues that'll be discussed, including explaining what the legislation does.
QUESTION: Can you say what the U.S. attitude is to the Turkish proposal of trying to bring Iran back to some form of P-5 talks?
MS. NULAND: Well, we've said from the beginning that we are open to talks with an Iran that is serious about coming clean with its - about its nuclear program. And we said that again on Thursday, we said it again on Friday. In September, when the P-5 met under - on the margins of the UNGA, they put forward another invitation to Iran if it would be serious. Iran has said it wants to take up that invitation for talks, but it has not yet responded in writing to the P-5+1's proposal. So we await seriousness on the Iranian side. We've seen the reports in Turkey, but we haven't yet had what we need, which is a letter back from Tehran.
Still on this subject?
QUESTION: Change in topic?
QUESTION: Yeah. Still on Iran.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. It's about - still on Ahmadinejad's tour. The Guatemalan Government has confirmed that he will be present next Saturday at Otto Perez Molina's inauguration. And I was wondering - this is adding another country to his tour. Are you worried that he's trying to expand his influence and particularly in Central America?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think the Guatemalan Government knows very clearly where we stand. They also know what the international community is trying to do. So I think the issue is to send a strong message to him at every one of these stops that Iran is going to remain isolated and face difficulties if it doesn't do what it needs to do with the UN and with the IAEA.
Still on Iran? Finished with Iran?
QUESTION: Secretary Geithner is heading to Beijing seeking China's support of the financial sanction on Iran. But China's foreign - deputy foreign minister just said that China's trade with Iran has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program. So I'm wondering what's your comments on that.
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously I'm going to refer you to the Treasury to give more comment on the goals of Secretary Geithner's trip to Beijing. But we feel strongly that all countries, including China, ought to be looking hard at how we can reduce dependence on Iranian oil as a way of sending a signal to that government that it needs to come back into compliance with its international obligations. And China shares our larger goal of bringing Iran back into compliance with the UN. And so I'm sure that these issues will be discussed on that trip.
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