Well, it looks like that warm and fuzzy moment of humanitarian goodness from when we rescued their sailors from pirates didn’t last very long. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former US Marine with dual citizenship in America and Iran, was arrested last year while visiting his grandmother in their native country. Born in Arizona, Mirzaei was charged with the usual laundry list of charges the Iranians tag on Americans, including being a spy and an agent of the CIA, and has now been sentenced to death.
Mirzaei has 20 days to appeal the court’s decision, which comes at a time of increasing tensions between Tehran and Washington. The U.S. is pursuing tough sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, and a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and mysterious explosions at military and industrial sites have prompted Iran to keep closer tabs on dual nationals visiting the country.
Precisely when and where Mirzaei was arrested is unclear. Iranian news reports have said he was detained in late August or early September, according to the Associated Press. Mirzaei’s family members, who live in Michigan, have reportedly said he was in Iran to visit his grandmother.
Mirzaei appeared on Iranian state television in December and purportedly confessed to working for the CIA. It is unclear whether the statements were made under duress.
We have no way of knowing if Mirzaei was working with our intelligence agencies or not, and frankly that’s really not the public’s business. But we do know that he remains an American citizen and served his country in uniform. While I’m not suggesting taking this lightly at all, I would hope that there’s very little chance that the Iranians would actually be stupid enough to carry out this sentence. It seems fairly typical of their grandstanding ways, grabbing international headlines, looking like they are flexing their muscle against “the great Satan,” and ginning up the idea that they’re defending themselves against some sort of subversive war by the West.
Oh, and just to add a little more spice to the stew, Iran apparently decided this would be a dandy time to fire up a uranium enrichment plant.
Iran announced on Monday it had sentenced a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen to death as a spy, and diplomats said it had switched on a uranium enrichment plant deep inside a mountain, actions certain to infuriate the West.
The moves come at a time when new U.S. sanctions are causing real economic pain, Iran has spooked oil markets with threats to international shipping, and an election in two months is widening political divisions at home.
Having this crop up just when tensions are high over sanctions and threats to close the Straights of Hormuz to oil shipments certainly doesn’t help. Expect to see this question cropping up among the GOP candidates, depending on how the story plays out. But what will the White House wind up doing… if anything? I guess this is one of those 3 AM phone call things Hillary was talking about.