A worker works at the Fuel Manufacturing plant at Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility

Tehran: Iran has arrested the deputy head of the United Kingdom’s mission in Iran, Giles Whitaker, and several other academics on charges of espionage, local media reported on Wednesday.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) detained these diplomats on claims of spying and taking samples of soil from a prohibited area during a missile exercise, The Jerusalem Post reported.

IRGC released video footage claiming to show Whitaker near a site where the Iranian forces were conducting missile exercises. The report said the deputy ambassador has since apologized and been expelled.

According to the Post, one of the suspects detained by the IRGC had entered the country as part of scientific exchange with a university. The IRGC also claimed that the suspect sampled soil in some areas.

It claimed that diplomats are often used to look for military sites and identify equipment and munitions. The report also stated that the diplomats were being used to build a new case concerning the “military aspects of Iran’s file in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

This high-level arrest comes as talks between Iran and the world powers to attempt to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal remain stalled.

Iran signed the JCPOA with world powers in July 2015, agreeing to curb its nuclear program in return for the removal of sanctions on the country.

However, former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement in May 2018 and reimposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, prompting the latter to drop some of its commitments under the pact.

The Iranian nuclear talks began in April 2021 in Vienna but were suspended in March this year because of political differences between Tehran and Washington

The US has complained that Iran has brought new demands unrelated to the JCPOA deal to the table. Whereas Iranian officials have complained that the US is not willing to lift sanctions before a return to the deal.

The “oppressive” U.S. sanctions against Iran should be lifted in such a way that all countries can easily invest in Iran while maintaining their long-term interests, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said Wednesday.

Shamkhani made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Iran’s Nour News affiliated with SNSC reported.

Notably, this is not the first time a UK diplomat has been detained in Iran.

Back January 2020, then UK ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, was arrested at a vigil for the 176 people who were killed when a Ukraine International Airlines aircraft was shot down by the IRGC.

Macaire returned to London for a period of about three weeks before returning to Iran in February 2020.

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