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Iran detains two Europeans as EU nuclear talks envoy visits

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) – Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said yesterday it detained two Europeans as a European Union (EU) envoy visits the country over its stalled nuclear negotiations with world powers.

The announcement by the ministry, during the visit of EU envoy Enrique Mora, comes as Tehran already is threatening to execute an Iranian-Swedish researcher imprisoned since 2016, and as another Iranian national faces a life sentence in Sweden.

Iran long has faced allegations it uses its arrests as a bargaining chip with the West. Tehran denies that, though negotiations around its landmark 2015 nuclear deal saw Americans freed in a swap.

Meanwhile yesterday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard reportedly attacked Kurdish positions in northern Iraq.

The ministry said in a statement that the two Europeans planned to turn routine demands by various social and professional groups into “chaos, social disorder and instability”.

It did not identify the nationality of those held. Sweden said last Friday that one of its citizens travelling as a tourist has been detained in Iran, but it wasn’t clear if his case was connected to the Intelligence Ministry’s announcement.

The statement alleged the two are “professional expert” agents that were hired by a European country’s intelligence apparatus. It said the ministry was pursuing them from “the moment of arrival” and that all their relations with the “illegal Council of Teachers League” were documented.

Iran has been facing regular protests by teachers over salary disputes.

Mora’s visit comes as the nuclear deal talks in Vienna have stalled. The deal, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment for the lifting of economic sanctions, appear deadlocked over an Iranian demand for America to delist the Guard as a terrorist organisation.

Despite repeated Iranian claims that a separate deal would see billions of dollars in assets unfrozen and prisoners exchanged with the United States (US), the US State Department has repeatedly said that no deal is imminent on either a prisoner swap or the nuclear deal.

The deal collapsed after then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018. Iran since has accelerated its enrichment of uranium – including a small amount to 60 per cent purity, a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian offered his support for ongoing negotiations.

“Talks for lifting sanctions in reaching good, strong and stable deal in being pursued in its right direction while observing Iran’s red lines,” he wrote on Twitter. However, hard-liners within Iran have criticised any possible bending on the deal or the listing of the Guard.

Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with monitoring Iran’s nuclear programme, has grown increasingly critical of Iran’s failure to cooperate with the organisation and its refusal to explain the traces of radioactive material at several undeclared nuclear sites in the country.

Iran has refused to release IAEA surveillance tapes of its nuclear facilities as well, worrying nuclear non-proliferation experts.