World

Trump denies Iran arrested 17 people accused of being U.S. spies

President Donald Trump says Iran is lying about having arrested 17 Iranian nationals recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on the country's nuclear and military sites.

U.S. secretary of state says Iran has 'long history of lying'

An Iranian official claims none of the 17 arrested, who allegedly had 'sophisticated training,' had succeeded in their sabotage missions. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

President Donald Trump said Monday Iran is lying about having arrested 17 Iranian nationals recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on the country's nuclear and military sites.

"That's totally a false story. That's another lie," Trump told reporters at the White House.

In Tehran, an Iranian intelligence official told a news conference that the arrests took place over the past months, and that those taken into custody worked on "sensitive sites" in the country's military and nuclear facilities.

Trump also said Iran has "disrespected" the United States, and that it is "getting harder" for him to want to make a deal with Iran to replace the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that the administration pulled out of last year.

He called Iran a "very mixed up country" with big economic problems and a restive population.

"They have a lot of problems," he said. "So, whatever it is, I'm just going to sit back and wait" to see whether Tehran is going to agree to negotiate limits on its nuclear program and other activities.

"If they want to make a deal, frankly it's getting harder for me to want to make a deal with Iran, because they've behaved very badly. They're saying bad things."

President Donald Trump, appearing with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday, denied Iran's claims. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also dismissed Iran's announcement.

"The Iranian regime has a long history of lying … I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they've taken," Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News Channel.

Pompeo declined to comment about any specific cases, but added, "There's a long list of Americans that we are working to get home from the Islamic Republic of Iran."

In its claim, Iran said the 17 Iranian nationals were allegedly recruited by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to spy on nuclear and military sites.

The arrests took place over the past months and those taken into custody worked on "sensitive sites" in the country's military and nuclear facilities, an Iranian intelligence official told a news conference in Tehran.

He did not say how many of them got the death sentence or when the sentences were handed down.

Iran's nuclear deal with world powers is unravelling and tensions have spiked in the Persian Gulf region, stemming from Trump's decision to pull the United States out of Tehran's deal last year and intensify sanctions.

Rare for intelligence officials to give media briefings

The Iranian official did not give his name, but was identified as the director of the counterespionage department of Iran's intelligence ministry. Such a procedure is highly unusual in Iran; officials usually identify themselves at news conferences. It is also rare for intelligence officials to appear before the media.

The official claimed none of the 17, who allegedly had "sophisticated training," had succeeded in their sabotage missions. Their spying missions included collecting information at the facilities they worked at, carrying out technical and intelligence activities, and transferring and installing monitoring devices, he said.

The official further claimed the CIA had promised those arrested U.S. visas or jobs in America, and some of the agents had turned and were now working with his department "against the U.S."

He also handed out a CD with a video recording of an alleged foreign female spy working for the CIA. The disc included names of several U.S. embassy staff in Turkey, India, Zimbabwe and Austria who Iran claims were in touch with the recruited Iranian spies.

Occasionally, Iran announces detentions of spies it says are working for foreign countries, including the U.S. and Israel. In June, Iran said it executed a former staff member of the defence ministry who was convicted of spying for the CIA.

In April, Iran said it uncovered 290 CIA spies both inside and outside the country over the past years.

With files from Reuters

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