The United States has expelled two Iranian security guards at Iran's mission to the United Nations. U.S. officials say two employees at the Iranian U.N. mission were asked to leave the country for what are described as "activities incompatible with their stated duties." That phrase is diplomatic language for spying.
The two men were security guards at the mission, and did not have diplomatic immunity. They left the country last Saturday.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador Stuart Holliday said the men had been videotaping sites considered possible terrorist targets.
"As we understand it, these individuals were moving around New York City and essentially surveilling, taking photographs of a variety of New York landmarks and infrastructure and the rest, but this is something which obviously isn't part of protecting their mission here in New York," he said.
There is no law against photographing these sites, but U.S. officials said last year they had on two occasions questioned Iranian guards taking pictures of potential terrorist targets in New York. Ambassador Holliday said law enforcement officials believed the two men expelled last week were doing more than just taking tourist photographs.
"Obviously the threshold is different for people that are here assigned to sensitive activities here at the United Nations and we have I think great confidence in the ability of the local Federal law enforcement to determine what actions and behavior is typical and what is atypical," explained Mr. Holliday.
Iran's U.N. mission issued a statement Tuesday categorically denying that the guards had photographed anything of a security or sensitive nature. The statement said all the photos were of obvious and popular tourist attractions that would be of interest to any visitors to New York City.
A government spokesman in Tehran is quoted as saying the expulsion of the two guards runs against international conventions on providing facilities for staff of foreign missions and lacks political judgment and moral value.
Iran is among the countries listed by the United States as a state supporter of terrorism. The Bush administration has also accused the Tehran government of trying to build nuclear weapons.
Earlier this month, the U.N. nuclear agency rebuked Iran for covering up its nuclear program, and warned that time was running out for it to show it had no program to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.
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