Iran detains 2 Europeans on visit of EU nuclear envoy

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s intelligence ministry said Wednesday that it detained two Europeans while an European Union envoy visited the country amid stalled nuclear talks with world powers.

The ministry’s announcement comes as Tehran has threatened to execute an Iranian-Swedish researcher imprisoned since 2016, while another Iranian national faces life in Sweden imprisonment.

Iran has long faced charges of using its arrest as a bargaining chip with the West. Tehran denies that, even though negotiations around its landmark 2015 nuclear deal have freed Americans in exchange.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reportedly attacked Kurdish positions in northern Iraq on Wednesday.

In a statement, the ministry said the two Europeans planned to turn the usual demands of various social and professional groups into “chaos, social dislocation and instability”.

It did not determine the nationality of the detainees. Sweden said on Friday that one of its citizens traveling as a tourist had been detained in Iran, but it was unclear whether his case was linked to the intelligence ministry announcement.

The two were “professional expert” agents employed by a European national intelligence agency, the statement said. It said the Department of Education had hunted them down “from the moment they arrived” and that all their ties to the “Unlawful Teachers’ Union Committee” were recorded.

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

Mora’s visit comes at a time when negotiations over the Vienna nuclear deal have stalled. The deal, which sees Tehran limit its increased funding to lift economic sanctions, has stalled over Iran’s demands for the U.S. to remove the National Guard from the terror group.

Despite Iran’s repeated claims that a separate deal would unfreeze billions of dollars in assets and exchange prisoners with the United States, the State Department has repeatedly said that neither a prisoner exchange nor a nuclear deal is imminent.

The deal fell apart after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018. Iran has since accelerated enrichment of uranium—including small amounts to 60 percent purity, a brief technological step at weapons-grade levels.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdullahian expressed support for the ongoing negotiations.

“Negotiations on lifting sanctions to reach a good, strong and stable deal moving in the right direction while adhering to Iran’s red lines,” he tweeted. However, hardliners in Iran have criticized any A guard of conduct that could distort the deal or listing.

Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s nuclear program, has increasingly criticized Iran for failing to cooperate with the organization and refusing to explain traces of radioactive material at several of the country’s undeclared nuclear facilities. Iran has also refused to release IAEA surveillance video of its nuclear facilities, worrying nonproliferation experts.

Meanwhile, Iran has threatened to execute Ahmad Reza Jalali, a Swedish-Iranian doctor, by May 21 at the latest. Jalali is a Swedish-Iranian doctor who specializes in disaster relief and has taught at European universities. Human rights groups have condemned his detention.

After announcing his imminent execution, Iran convened its Swedish envoy to conduct a landmark trial in Sweden of an Iranian national accused of mass executions in the final stages of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Swedish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Hamid Nouri, who has been held in Sweden since his November 2019 arrest in Stockholm. The Stockholm District Court said it expected a verdict in the case on July 14.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Wednesday that the guards targeted a so-called “terrorist base” near Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, without giving details. The Guard has used missiles in the past to target Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq. Iraqi and Kurdish officials did not immediately acknowledge the strike.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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