Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has arrested several foreigners, including Britain’s second-highest envoy to Tehran, for alleged espionage, including taking soil samples in restricted areas, Iranian state television reported.
Most important points:
- Britain said the reports were “completely false”
- One of the men was identified as deputy head of the British government’s mission in Iran
- A Polish university professor and the husband of the Austrian cultural attaché in Iran were also mentioned
It was not disclosed when they were arrested or whether they were still in custody. Britain said the reports were “completely inaccurate”.
“These spies took soil samples in the central desert of Iran, where the Revolutionary Guards’ missile exercises were conducted,” state television said.
Iranian state television reportedly showed images of Giles Whitaker and his family in central Iran, where the British diplomat appeared to be taking soil samples.
The TV said it was near an area where a missile test by the guards was taking place.
However, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said: “Reports of the arrest of a British diplomat in Iran are completely false.”
Samuel Heath, the British spokesperson for the United States, tweeted: “He (Mr Whitaker) isn’t even posted in Iran anymore!”
One of the detainees was identified by state television as the husband of the Austrian cultural attaché in Iran. Austrian officials were not immediately available to comment on the matter.
The TV also showed a photo of a third foreigner, identified as Maciej Walczak, a university professor in Poland, who he said visited Iran as a tourist.
The TV report contained footage in which Mr. Walczak and three colleagues allegedly collected earth samples in another area after visiting Iran for a science exchange program.
It said their sample collection also coincided with a missile test in Iran’s southern Kerman province.
Rising tensions over stalled nuclear deal
The developments have coincided with rising tensions between Tehran and world powers over long-stalled attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal and a recent rise in confirmed detentions of Western nationals in the country.
State television said Israel – which is firmly opposed to the nuclear deal – “wants to open a dossier on the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program, using third-country nationals with links to foreign embassies”.
The US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, who subsequently re-imposed corrosive sanctions on Tehran, prompting the latter to relinquish many of the nuclear commitments it had made under the accord. .
Iran has been in direct talks with the remaining parties to the deal — and indirect talks with the US — since April 2021 in an effort to restore it, but those negotiations have been at an impasse since March.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps has arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mainly on espionage and security-related charges, including a French couple charged Wednesday with “undermining the security” of the country.
Rights groups have accused the Islamic Republic of trying to win concessions from other countries through arrests on possible trumped-up security charges. Tehran denies arresting people for political reasons.
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