22 July, 2019
Iran said on Monday it captured 17 spies working for the United States intelligence agency and sentenced some of them to death.
American President Donald Trump has dismissed the report as "totally false."
Trump wrote on Twitter, "The Report of Iran capturing...spies is totally false. Zero truth. 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!"
Iranian state television published images which it said showed U.S. intelligence officers who had been in contact with the suspected spies. The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence said the 17 spies were arrested between March 2018 and March 2019.
The Iranian announcement came hours before Britain was to announce its answer to Iran's seizure of a British oil ship. Iranian forces used ropes from helicopters to raid the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.
In London, government officials met to discuss the seizure.
Britain's foreign minister later said the country will seek a European-led sea traffic protection team for the area. He said more details would come later this week.
Fox News spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about any possible U.S. action in answer to the seized ship. He said, "The responsibility ... falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships."
Tensions between the United States and Iran have increased since last year when the U.S withdrew from an international nuclear agreement.
In May, the American government strengthened sanctions against Iran. The action effectively bars all countries from buying Iranian oil.
Since then, Iran has increased its nuclear activity beyond the limits of the agreement. Also, the U.S. has accused Iran of attacking ships in the Gulf. After Iran shot down a U.S. drone in June, Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes. He canceled that order minutes before it was to happen.
Last week, the United States said it had shot down an Iranian drone, which Iran has denied.
The United States' major European allies, -- Britain, France and Germany -- opposed Trump's decision to leave the nuclear deal. They have tried to remain neutral. But on July 4 British naval forces seized an Iranian oil ship near the British territory of Gibraltar. Britain said the ship had violated European sanctions on Syria.
Iran repeatedly threatened to retaliate for that incident. It says it is holding the Stena Impero for safety concerns. It says the ship's 23 crew members are safe.
The United States has an aircraft carrier and several other warships in the Strait of Hormuz area. It has been trying to get other countries to join an international force to protect shipping.
The United States has been struggling to win its allies' support for a plan to increase surveillance of Middle East oil shipping paths.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Reuters news agency reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
regime - n. a form of government
retaliatory - adj. in a way to return like for like
surveillance - n. close watch kept over someone or something
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.