Iranian media: Revolutionary Guards accuse diplomats of spying
Tehran, Iran — Iranian state television said on Wednesday that the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards accused the UK’s deputy ambassador and other foreigners in the country of “spying” and taking soil samples in prohibited military zones.
The country’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that the foreigners had been arrested, but did not say when. Britain’s Foreign Office quickly denied the arrest of its diplomat, calling the report “completely untrue”.
Iranian state television broadcast footage purporting to show the foreigners taking samples from the ground under drone surveillance.
The charges follow escalating tensions following a resumption of foreign arrests in Tehran and rapid progress in its nuclear work, while talks to revive the landmark 2015 atomic deal remain stalled. Iran has detained a number of Europeans in recent months, including two French citizens and a Swedish tourist, as it seeks to gain leverage in negotiations.
The report also comes after Iran, in a rare move, replaced the Revolutionary Guards’ longtime intelligence chief.
News outlets said Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy, Giles Whitaker, and other foreigners were facing ‘espionage’ charges after visiting various off-limits areas of the country while the Guard carried out missile testing.
The semi-official Fars news agency, seen as close to the Guard, claimed Whitaker was expelled from the area after he apologized to authorities.
The reports came as the British public was transfixed by the political fortunes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who faced mounting pressure to step down after defections from his cabinet.
State television aired a photo montage apparently showing Whitaker touring the desert southwest collecting soil samples against the backdrop of eerie music.
“Even though there were signs in that area saying it was a no-go area, he went further and took a sample and took a photo,” the narrator said. “Intelligence agencies say these people often pose as tourists, but search military and missile sites to identify equipment and ammunition.
Iranian media also identified Maciej Walczak, a Polish scientist from Copernicus University in Poland, as one of the foreigners charged. He also said he took soil, water and salt samples from a prohibited area during a missile test in the south of the country.
The report adds that the Guard’s intelligence wing also detained the Austrian cultural attache’s husband in Iran after taking soil samples in the northeast of the country.
Iran has in the past arrested dual nationals and people with Western ties, often on widely criticized espionage charges, and used them as bargaining chips in talks over other issues, such as nuclear negotiations. Tehran denies using detainees to serve its political goals.
Talks to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers have stalled for months. A recent effort to break the deadlock between US and Iranian negotiators ended without making progress in Doha last week.
As the shadow war between Israel and Iran intensified in the region, Iran announced last month that the head of the Guard’s intelligence service, Hossein Taeb, had been replaced by General Mohammad Kazemi, the former head of the Guard’s security department.
This surprise decision follows the deaths of several Guard officers in recent weeks.
Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.