Iranian reports of breaking up US spy ring ‘totally false’, says Trump

UK foreign secretary Hunt calls seizure of Stena Impero tanker an ‘act of state piracy’

Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, at Bandar Abbas port on Sunday after its seizure by Iran. Photograph:  Mizan News Agency/via Reuters

Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, at Bandar Abbas port on Sunday after its seizure by Iran. Photograph: Mizan News Agency/via Reuters


US president Donald Trump dismissed as “totally false” reports that Iran had arrested 17 of its nationals who were allegedly employed by the CIA, in the latest indication of burgeoning tension in the region.

An Iranian intelligence official told reporters that 17 Iranians who had been working in military and nuclear sites had been arrested and some had been sentenced to death.

But Mr Trump denounced the reports as false.

“That’s totally a false story; that’s another lie,” he said in a lengthy interchange with reporters in the Oval Office as he greeted Pakistani prime minister Imran Kahn. His comments echoed an earlier tweet in which he dismissed the report as “totally false”.

“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. Their Economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!”

In a sign of an increasingly hawkish stance by the president, Mr Trump also issued a warning that the window for diplomacy was closing. “Frankly, it’s getting harder for me to make a deal with Iran . . . it could go either way,” he said, noting that Iran had “disrespected the United States”.

Task force

The latest war of words between Washington and Tehran unfolded as British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a new European task force to help patrol vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, after Iran seized two British-owned ships in the strait on Friday.

Mr Hunt condemned Iran’s detention of the Stena Impero oil tanker by the country’s Revolutionary guard as an “act of state piracy” in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday.

Mr Hunt’s announcement came amid signs of possible tension between London and Washington over Iran after secretary of state Mike Pompeo said that it was ultimately the responsibility of the United Kingdom to take care of its own ship.

Mr Trump also addressed America’s involvement in Afghanistan, claiming he could end the war in “one week” but that it would cost the lives of millions of people.

“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people . . . I have plans on Afghanistan where if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be over in, literally, 10 days.”

Speaking alongside Pakistan’s recently-elected leader, Mr Trump said that American troops no longer wanted to stay in Afghanistan as “policemen”, predicting that Pakistan would help the US in extricating itself from the country.

This is despite the fact that the Trump administration cut millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan last year amid concerns that it was not doing enough to fight terrorist groups like the Taliban.

Asked if Islamabad was now doing enough, Mr Trump replied: “I’ll let you know that very quickly.”

The US president also said that he would “love to be a mediator” in the Kashmir conflict, noting that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi had asked him to help mediate.

“This has been going on for many, many years . . . If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It’s impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very very smart with smart leadership can’t solve a problem like that.”