President Donald Trump on Monday categorically denied reports that Iran had captured 17 supposed CIA agents whom the Islamic Republic accused of spying on the country.
Iranian leaders claimed they had captured the CIA agents last year and had been holding them in detention. Iran says that it is poised to execute the alleged spies, who also were accused of exhibiting techniques meant to resist interrogation.
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Trump quickly dismissed the reports, telling reporters this is yet another attempt by Iran to disseminate propaganda aimed at distracting from the country's ongoing support of regional terror operations.
The claim comes as the U.S. and Iran exchange salvos in a proxy battle in the Persian Gulf that threatens to ignite a full-blown war between the two countries.
"They lie a lot," Trump said at the White House.
The president pointed to the recent downing of an Iranian drone by U.S. forces, which Iran denied had even taken place.
"We took down one of their drones. They say that doesn't happen. There's a lot of proof," Trump said. "It's called take a look at it on the ocean floor. Take your scuba gear and go down."
Addressing the reports of imprisoned CIA agents, Trump said, "that's a totally false story."
"That's another lie. They put out propaganda. They put out lies," Trump said. "Let's see what happens with Iran. We are ready for the absolute worst and we are ready for sense, too. … They are really the number one state of terror in the world. I have to say they pulled back because their money is running really low."
The CIA declined to comment on the reports when asked Monday by the Washington Free Beacon. The reports have been denied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Iran has publicly touted the alleged capture of American spies before, though such messaging appears to be aimed mostly at a domestic audience.
While Iran has released video of pictures of the alleged CIA agents, it is unlikely they are Americans. The CIA has a history of using local sources of information, referred to by the intelligence community as assets, though it is difficult to determine if the captured individuals served in such a role.
Trump, in his remarks to reporters, went on to criticize the former Obama administration's nuclear agreement, saying he remains committed to dismantling the deal.
"Instead of being respectful and thankful, which frankly they should have been to the United States and to president Obama for making that ridiculous deal, instead of being respectful, they put their finger up in the air—this finger, the thumb—and they disrespected the United States," Trump said. "They shouldn't have done that. That was a big mistake. One of the best things I've done is terminate that ridiculous deal. If they want to make a deal, it's frankly getting harder for me to want to make a deal with Iran because they've behaved very badly. They're saying bad things. I'll tell you, it could go either way, very easily. Very easily. And I'm okay either way it goes."