TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — 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.
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 areas 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 country after apologizing.
There was no immediate comment from the UK Foreign Office. 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 Kopernik University in Poland, as one of the accused foreigners. It similarly said he took samples of soil, water and salt from a forbidden area.
Iran has in the past arrested dual nationals and those with Western ties, often on espionage charges, and leveraged them as bargaining chips in talks over other issues, such as nuclear negotiations.
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 a breakthrough in Doha last week.