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Iran playing deadly games

If nothing else, Iran is consistent ... at least as far as smokescreens, misdirection and outright lies.

It's hard to fathom that the announcement Monday that Iran has sentenced a U.S. citizen to death on a trumped up espionage charge wasn't designed to upstage the United Nations' confirmation that the Middle East nation is enriching uranium at a level higher than what is necessary if Iran truly were planing to use the material as a fuel for power generation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Monday that centrifuges at Iran's Fordo site are producing uranium enriched at 20 percent, much higher than the 3.5 percent material that is being created at its main enrichment facility. The higher percentage material can be turned into weapons-grade material much faster and with less work.

Iran's government says that it is enriching the material to power its Tehran Research Reactor, a claim that doesn't hold any credence since, as British officials have noted, there is five years' worth of nuclear fuel that already has been created, yet Tehran hasn't bothered yet to install equipment to convert the enriched uranium into fuel.

Tehran has been emboldened in its belief that its nuclear program will progress unabated, announcing months ago that it intended to achieve the 20 percent enriched uranium. That led President Obama to announce, as 2011 came to a close, new sanctions that would take effect against the rogue nation in six months if it continued down this destabilizing and potentially violent path.

Obama's sanctions would strike Iran in its pocketbook, and likely hit it hard. The U.S. would bar companies that do business with Iran's central bank from conducting any business with the United States, the world's largest economy. That would place the vast majority of world businesses to pull back from the Iranian bank, cutting off Iran's money stream.

The U.S. doesn't import any Iranian oil, but some U.S. allies do. While it's unlikely a nation like China would honor the sanctions, Eurpoean officials who had been hesitant to endorse the idea are reassessing the idea now that the U.N. agency has confirmed that they have good reason to be concerned about Iran's intentions.

Tehran, realizing its oil pipeline could slow to a trickle under the sanctions, has said that it will militarily close the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic oil route, from any oil if its own petroleum exports are blocked. The country has already conducted war games to show the United States it means business.

With Iranians willing to lie about its nuclear intentions and flex its military muscle, there's little doubt they would also make up espionage charges against an American of Iranian descent who was visiting his grandparents in Iran. On Monday, Iran announced through its state radio that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, had been found guilty of sinning against God by spying for the United States.

Hekmati claims dual citizenship as both a U.S. and Iranian citizen, but if he thought that would protect him while in Iran he was sadly mistaken. The State Department has made this clear to Americans of Iranian heritage, and for Hekmati, ignoring that warning may have cost him his life. At best it has made him a pawn in a deadly chess game, one in which Iran seems intent on raising the stakes to even more dangerous levels.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board