Tehran, Iran – Iranian state television said on Wednesday that the country’s paramilitary revolutionary guard had accused Britain’s deputy ambassador and other foreigners in the country of espionage and taking soil samples from banned military zones.
The country’s state news agency IRNA reported that the foreigners had been arrested but did not say when. The British Foreign Office quickly denied the arrest of its diplomat, calling the report “completely false.”
Iranian state television ran films allegedly showing foreigners collecting samples from the ground under drone surveillance.
The storm of accusations follows escalating tensions over an increase in Tehran’s arrests of foreigners and rapid progress in its nuclear work, while talks on reviving the 2015 landmark nuclear deal stand still. Iran has imprisoned a number of Europeans in recent months, including two French citizens and a Swedish tourist, as the country seeks to leverage the negotiations.
The report also comes after Iran, in a rare move, replaced the Revolutionary Guards’ longtime intelligence chief.
News channels reported that the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy, Giles Whitaker, and other foreigners were facing espionage charges after visiting various banned zones in the country while the guard performed missile tests.
The semi-official news agency Fars, which is believed to be close to the guard, claimed that Whitaker was expelled from the area after offering the authorities an apology.
The accusations in the Iranian media came when the British public was overwhelmed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political fortune, which is facing increasing pressure to resign after resigning from his cabinet.
State TV broadcast a photo montage apparently showing Whitaker touring the Southwest Desert and collecting soil samples against the backdrop of eerie music.
“Even though there were signs in the area that said this was a forbidden area, he went further and took a sample and took a picture,” the narrator said. “Intelligence services say these people often pose as tourists but look for military and missile sites to identify equipment and ammunition.”
Iranian media also identified Maciej Walczak, a Polish scientist at Copernicus University in Poland, as one of the accused foreigners. It similarly said that he took samples of soil, water and salt from a forbidden area during a missile test in the south of the country.
The report added that the guard’s intelligence service detained the man to the Austrian cultural attaché in Iran after he took soil samples in the northeastern part of the country.
Iran has previously arrested dual citizens and those with Western affiliations, often due to much-criticized allegations of espionage, and used them as bargaining chips in talks on other issues, such as nuclear negotiations. Tehran denies using prisoners to advance its political goals.
Talks to revive Tehran’s broken 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.
The United States’ special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, described the recent talks in Qatar as “more than a bit of a waste of time.”
“They have and, including in Doha, added demands that I think everyone who looks at this would be seen as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things they have wanted before,” Malley said in an interview with National Public Radio on Tuesday, which undermined Tehran’s more positive assessments.
He added that the United States is working at the same time to secure the release of four Americans imprisoned in Iran.
“They have been used as farmers,” he said. “But we are looking at steps we can take that would facilitate their return in the shortest possible time.”
Meanwhile, as a shadow war between Israel and Iran has escalated in Tehran and throughout the Middle East, Iran announced last month that the head of the Guard’s intelligence arm, Hossein Taeb, had been replaced by General Mohammad Kazemi, the former head of the Guard. The guard’s security department.
The surprising move followed the deaths of several guard officers in recent weeks.