Middle East

Iran says CIA spy network dismantled, as US plans to deploy 1000 more troops to Middle East

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The US Acting Defence Secretary is playing down a potential conflict with Iran saying the deployment of one thousand additional troops to the Middle East is to "ensure the safety and welfare" of personnel already working in the region.

Iran said Tuesday it has dismantled a new espionage network linked to the US Central Intelligence Agency and arrested a number of spies.

"Following clues in the American intelligence services, we recently found the new recruits Americans had hired and dismantled a new network," state news agency IRNA said, quoting an intelligence ministry official.

It said some members of the CIA network had been arrested and handed over to the judiciary, while others still required "additional investigations".

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.
Presidential Office

In what it termed a "wide-reaching blow" to  US intelligence, IRNA said Tehran had carried out the operation in cooperation with "foreign allies", without naming any state.

The agency's source did not specify how many foreign agents were arrested or if they were operating only in Iran.

In a programme aired on Tuesday, Iranian state television gave details of a 2013 operation to dismantle another CIA network.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been escalating following US accusations that Tehran was behind attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week.

Iran denies any involvement.

1000 Us troops deployed

The United States on Monday approved the deployment of 1000 additional troops to the Middle East, against the backdrop of soaring tensions with Iran.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement the troops were being sent "for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East."

"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran," the statement said, adding that the deployment aimed "to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests."

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked, more than a year after President Donald Trump announced Washington was withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal.

Tension in Middle East growing

The US military on Monday released images that it says bolster its claim Iran is behind attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman - but Iran continues to deny responsibility.

The new US deployment to the Middle East would be in addition to a 1,500 troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May that the US also blamed on Iran.

Iran said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal, which a White House National Security Council spokesman said amounted to "nuclear blackmail."

The 2015 accord, which Iran and the other signatories have maintained following Trump's decision, caps Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg enriched to 3.67 per cent.

But Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Monday: "We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit."

The move further undermines the nuclear pact also signed by Russia, Britain, Germany, China and the European Union, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

Iran's Rouhani said on Monday that European nations still had time to save the accord.

"It's a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time," Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France's new ambassador in Iran.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken to officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, China, Kuwait, South Korea, Britain and other countries to share its evidence of Iran's involvement in the attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese tankers.

Pompeo said on Sunday the United States did not want to go to war with Iran but would take every action necessary, including diplomacy, to guarantee safe navigation through Middle East shipping lanes.

- with AFP

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