Iran media: Revolutionary Guard accuses diplomats of spying

Iranian media reported on Wednesday that the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard has accused the deputy ambassador of the United Kingdom and other foreigners in the country of “espionage” and taking soil samples from prohibited military zones.

It was not immediately clear if the diplomat and other foreigners were detained. The country’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that the foreigners had been arrested, but did not say when or whether they were currently in custody. Iran’s state TV ran footage purporting to show the foreigners collecting samples from the ground in restricted areas.

The news outlets said the deputy head of mission at the British Embassy, Giles Whitaker, and other foreigners faced “spying” charges after visiting various forbidden zones in the country while the Guard was carrying out ballistic missile tests.

The semiofficial Fars news agency, believed to be close to the Guard, claimed that Whitaker was expelled from the city after offering authorities an apology.

There was no immediate comment from the U.K. Foreign Office about his reported detention. The reports come as the British public is transfixed by the political fortunes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is facing growing pressure to step down after defections from his cabinet.

Iranian media also identified Maciej Walczak, a Polish scientist at Copernicus University in Poland, as one of the accused foreigners. It similarly said he took samples of soil, water and salt from a forbidden area during a missile test in the country’s south.

The report added that the Guard’s intelligence unit also had detained the husband of Austria’s cultural attaché in Iran after he took soil samples in Iran’s northeast.

Iran has in the past arrested dual nationals and those with Western ties, often on widely criticized espionage charges, and leveraged them as bargaining chips in talks over other issues, such as nuclear negotiations. Tehran denies using detainees for political ends.

Talks to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers have stalled for months. A recent effort to break the deadlock between U.S. and Iranian negotiators ended without a breakthrough in Doha last week.

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