U.S. President Donald Trump rejected an announcement on Monday that Iran had captured and detained spies working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The head of Iran’s own counter-intelligence service said earlier on Monday that Tehran uncovered a U.S. intelligence network in the country and detained 17 agents, all of them Iranians.
Several of them could face the death penalty.
Iran’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the two countries as the U.S. has been pursuing a “maximum pressure” campaign with sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal with the country.
It has also stepped up its military presence in the region and repeatedly accused Iran of military aggression.
The CIA chose to work with Iranians because they speak the language of the country and have access to different organizations, the Iranian official said.
He said that the agents were using fake documents in the hope of avoiding the attention of Iranian security officials.
In return for their services, U.S. authorities had promised the agents U.S. visas, green cards, U.S. citizenship and lucrative jobs in the U.S., but the promises were never kept, the official said.
It was not clear following the press briefing at the Ministry of Culture how many of the 17 detainees could face the death penalty and how many – if any – were government employees.
An official at the briefing, who did not disclose his name said that more details about the case would be made public soon.
Press briefings at the Iranian intelligence service are extremely rare. Inviting foreign media is even less common.
Several European and Asian countries are also believed to have collaborated with the CIA in its operations in Iran.
U.S. ally Britain is also involved in an escalating row with Iran over oil tankers that have been seized by the two countries.
On Friday, Iran stopped the Britain-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, saying the vessel had continued without stopping after a collision with a fishing boat.
The confrontation between Britain and Iran began earlier this month when the Iranian oil carrier Grace 1 was impounded off the British territory of Gibraltar for allegedly violating EU sanctions with its Syria-bound cargo.