UK says diplomat who was allegedly arrested by Iran as spy left country 6 months ago

Britain’s ambassador to Iran said Thursday that a diplomat whom Tehran’s state media has claimed was arrested had in fact ended his term and left the Islamic Republic more than six months ago.

“These reports that our Deputy Ambassador is currently detained are very interesting… He actually left Iran last December, at the end of his posting,” British ambassador Simon Shercliff wrote on Twitter.

On Wednesday, Iran’s Fars news agency and state television had reported that the Revolutionary Guards had arrested — on an unspecified date — several foreign diplomats, including British deputy head of mission Giles Whitaker.

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

It was not clear if the diplomat and other foreigners were currently or previously detained. Iran’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.

Fars said that Whitaker had been expelled from Iran, but state TV said only that he had been expelled from “the area” where the diplomats were arrested.

Video footage showed images of a man presented as Whitaker speaking in a room.

A state TV journalist said the diplomat “was among those who went to the Shahdad desert with his family as tourists,” referring to an area in central Iran.

Britain’s Foreign Ministry described the reports that a diplomat was expelled as “completely false.”

An image published in Iranian media on July 7, 2022 showing the reported “suspects visiting restricted areas” in the central desert of Iran. (Screenshot)

The reports come as the British public is transfixed by the political fortunes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who stepped down Thursday after mounting 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.

Illustrative: A test of the new Iranian Raad-500 Ballistic missile, unveiled on February 9, 2020. (Screenshot: Twitter)

According to Reuters, another of the individuals identified by Fars was the husband of Austria’s cultural attaché in Iran.

Kian Sharifi, a reporter and analyst for the BBC, tweeted that the Fars report accused Israel of using foreign nationals to help it make its case against Iran at the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

Talks between Iran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal have been stalled for months. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action gave Iran sanction relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent it from being weaponized.

After the Trump administration pulled the US out of the JCPOA in 2018, Iran dropped many of its own commitments and ramped up its nuclear program.

Indirect talks to save the deal and bring the US back into it have been stalled for months. Recent talks held in Doha, Qatar, between Iran and the US also failed to make progress.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, June 23, 2022. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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