WATCH: U.S. joins UK in decrying planned execution in Iran

The United States echoed Great Britain in calling for a halt to the execution of Ali Reza Akbari, a British-Iranian dual national and former senior defense official in Iran. Akbari was sentenced to death after being convicted on charges of spying for Britain, according to Iranian state-linked media.

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The judiciary said Ali Reza Akbari, who was deputy defense minister until 2001, was a “key spy” for British intelligence, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported. It said Iranian intelligence unmasked the spying by feeding him false information.

Tasnim also reported that he had spied on past nuclear talks between Iran and Western powers. Akbari had served as deputy defense minister under President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who had pushed for improved relations with the West.

“We are greatly disturbed by the reports that Mr. Akbari was drugged, tortured while in custody, interrogated for thousands of hours and forced to make false confessions,” said Vedant Patel, the State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson. “His execution would be unconscionable.”

Akbari, who ran a private think tank, has not been seen in public since 2019, when he was apparently arrested.

Authorities have not released any details about his trial. Those accused of espionage and other crimes related to national security are usually tried behind closed doors, where rights groups say they do not choose their own lawyers and are not allowed to see evidence against them.

There has been no word on when the execution might be carried out.

Patel also commented on plans that a delegation from the United States will travel to Cuba this month to discuss law enforcement issues.

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The visit will marks another small step forward in improving an icy relationship between the two countries under the Biden administration.

It will be the first delegation to travel to the island this year, following a small easing by the Biden administration of sanctions on Cuba that had been tightened under then-President Donald Trump.

Topics such as narcotrafficking, growing migration from Cuba, the handing over of American fugitives of decades past and terrorism could be up for discussion.

“Our belief is that establishing and increasing channels for law enforcement cooperation to better address transnational threats is not at the expense of the serious human rights concerns that we continue to have, Patel said.

The officials traveling to Cuba will be from the State Department, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security, according to a U.S. statement.

In one of his final acts in office in 2020, Trump included Cuba on the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism for providing refuge to leaders of a Colombian guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, who have since left the island. The effect was adding more barriers to international trade with Cuba.

Biden officials have been hesitant to rebuild the relationship with the communist nation following the Cuban government’s harsh treatment of demonstrators in the island’s 2021 protests.

But a rising migratory wave from the island, with a growing number of Cubans arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico, has put political pressure on President Joe Biden to restart talks with the Cuban government.

In the final months of 2020, American officials made a handful of visits to the island to discuss migratory issues.

Other smaller steps have also been made, including an aid donation by the U.S. following a hurricane walloping the island in September and this week’s reopening by Western Union of limited money transfers to Cuba.