Iranian-American arrested on spying charges trying to leave Iran

Iranian-American arrested on spying charges trying to leave Iran
2 min read
26 January, 2021
An Iranian-American man is one of several who have been arrested on spying charges as he tried to leave Tehran.
Several dual-nationals have been arrested [Getty]

Iran has detained an Iranian-American man on spying charges as he attempted to leave the country, judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili revealed, a common charge by Tehran against dual nationals.

"The defendant had been free on bail ... and was arrested as he tried to leave the country," Esmaili said in a news conference streamed on the government website.

"This person... faced charges from earlier in the area of spying and gathering information for foreign countries," he said.

Though Esmaili did not name the defendant in the case, local media reports identified him as businessman Emad Shargi.

US media quoted a family friend saying that he was summoned to a court in Tehran in November and told he was being charged with espionage.

Shargi reportedly did not stand trial and was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Esmaili refused to refer to the "defendant" as dual nationality and said Iranian law did not recognise such a title.

Shargi is one of a number of dual nationals arrested by the Iranian regime, who critics say are then used as bargaining chips with Western countries trying to secure their release.

The unnamed American is the first to be arrested in such a manner since US President Joe Biden took office.

The US has not yet responded to the arrest, however it could throw a spanner in the works for Biden's plans to reopen diplomatic ties with Iran.

Former US president Donald Trump had adopted a "maximum pressure" approach to Iran that included severe economic sanctions and removing the US from the 2015 nuclear accord and attempting to renegotiate terms with Iran.

Thawing relations?

Biden has expressed interest in returning to the nuclear accord.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took Biden's inauguration as an opportunity to call on the US to return to the negotiating table and put an end to sanctions.

Two days after President Biden took office, he published an op-ed in the US foreign policy magazine Foreign Affairs.

He wrote: "The new administration in Washington has a fundamental choice to make," Zarif, who is considered one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear deal, wrote in the op-ed.

"It can embrace the failed policies of the Trump administration", or Biden "can choose a better path by ending Trump's failed policy of 'maximum pressure' and returning to the deal his predecessor abandoned", he added.

"But if Washington instead insists on extracting concessions, then this opportunity will be lost."

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