Iran’s judiciary on Monday sentenced to death an imprisoned American convicted of espionage for the Central Intelligence Agency. The punishment shocked his family and was imposed against a backdrop of increasingly bellicose relations with the United States over the disputed Iranian nuclear program.

The sentence against the American, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, a former Marine, was likely to become a new point of contention, and possible bargaining leverage, in Iran’s struggle against the West over its nuclear program. A tightening vise of sanctions, which threaten vital oil sales and with them the nation’s economy, has left Tehran feeling besieged and pushed relations with the United States and its allies to the lowest ebb since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In retaliation, Tehran announced on Sunday that it had begun to enrich uranium at a second site, after having threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to shipping, a measure that would severely curtail oil shipments.

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