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Poland confirms scientists arrested by Iran, Austria and Great Britain deny arrests

#Poland #confirms #scientists #arrested #Iran #Austria #Great #Britain #deny #arrests

Iranian media reports that the Revolutionary Guards arrested several foreign diplomats on Thursday for espionage caused confusion after two of the countries concerned denied detaining their nationals.

While Poland confirmed on Thursday that a scientist is being held in Iranian custody, Austria has firmly denied reports that one of its diplomats had been detained, echoing an announcement by Britain late Wednesday.

The developments coincide with rising tensions between Tehran and world powers over stalled attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal and a recent spike in confirmed detentions of Western nationals in Iran.

Iran’s Fars news agency and state television reported on Wednesday that the Revolutionary Guards had arrested several foreign diplomats on an unspecified date.

“The Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Service identified and arrested foreign embassy diplomats who were spying in Iran,” Fars said, adding that a British diplomat appointed by state television as deputy chief of mission, Giles Whitaker, was subsequently expelled.

London was quick to deny the arrest of its deputy ambassador, and on Thursday Britain’s ambassador to Iran said the envoy left the country last year.

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

Iranian state television accused him of conducting “intelligence operations” in military areas.

– Pole held for 10 months –

A state television journalist said the diplomat “was among those who went to the Shahdad Desert with his family as tourists,” referring to an area in Kerman province.

The Shahdad Desert, a rocky and mountainous area of ​​ancient ruins about 810 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Tehran, is a popular destination for foreigners.

While Fars said the Brit was expelled from Iran, state television said he was only expelled from “the area” where the diplomats were arrested.

Prior to Shercliff’s comment, the British Foreign Office had already categorically denied that its deputy ambassador had been arrested, calling the reports “completely false”.

Vienna also dismissed reports by Iranian media that Ronald Dishes, whom it described as “the wife of the Austrian embassy’s cultural adviser,” was among those arrested.

“Regarding the media reports: All employees and their relatives in Tehran are doing well, nobody was arrested,” a spokeswoman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry told the AFP news agency.

But Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina confirmed Thursday that “a Polish citizen was deprived of his liberty in Iran in September 2021,” only identifying the detainee as a “recognized scientist,” without naming him.

“Consular and diplomatic measures are being taken so that our citizen can return to Poland as soon as possible,” Jasina added, noting that Warsaw is in contact “with allied countries,” without giving details but asking that family privacy is respected.

Iranian state television showed images of a man it identified as “Maciej Walczak, head of the microbiology department” at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland.

– Tense nuclear talks –

“This university is affiliated with the Zionist regime,” it said, referring to arch-enemy Israel, which strongly opposes the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and perceives it as a threat to its security.

Walczak “entered Iran with three other people as part of a scientific exchange, but he went to the desert region of Shahdad as a tourist while missile tests were being conducted,” state television said. It was said that he had taken rock and soil samples.

But Marcin Czyzniewski, a spokesman for the university where Walczak is said to be an environmental microbiology expert, said it was “an old story”.

“Iran is providing the names of three people, two of whom have returned to Torun for months,” Czyzniewski said.

Tensions between Iran and western powers have risen recently as talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled since March.

The US withdrew from the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, who again imposed harsh sanctions on Tehran, prompting Tehran to back down from many of the nuclear commitments made under the deal.

Qatar hosted indirect talks in Doha last week to get the Vienna process back on track, but those talks stalled after two days without a breakthrough.

Over a dozen Western nationals are being held in Iran, including a French couple who were arrested in May in what activists say is a hostage-taking policy aimed at extorting concessions from the West.

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