Trump Denies Iran Arrested 17 People Accused of Being U.S. Spies

President Donald Trump. REUTERS./

WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday categorically denied that Iran had arrested 17 people whom Tehran accused of being CIA spies and had sentenced some to death, calling the reports “totally false.”

“The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Iran announced the arrests in state media, saying the alleged spies had been captured in the 12 months to March 2019. Such announcements are not unusual in Iran, but the timing has raised concerns that Tehran is hardening its position during the tensions with Western powers.

The announcement came after Washington said it had shot down an Iranian drone, which Tehran denied.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also cast doubt on the arrests in a television interview earlier on Monday, saying, “The Iranian regime has a long history of lying.”

Trump has said publicly he would meet with Iranian leaders to make an agreement on nuclear and other security issues, but Tehran has rebuffed such offers, saying it is not open to talks with sanctions still in place.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)