July 22 (UPI) -- U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted a claim by Iran Monday, that it's rounded up and condemned a number of spies recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency, as "totally false."
Iran's Ministry of Intelligence said earlier it has dismantled an American spy ring by arresting 17 Iranian citizens who'd been working for the CIA. The intelligence director said the Iran-based agents were employed by private organizations and institutes in the nuclear, military and cyber sectors, where they collected classified information, state-run Fars news agency reported.
They were offered passage to the United States, jobs and money, CNN reported, citing an intelligence document.
Trump pushed back strongly in a Twitter post Monday.
"That's a totally false story," he told reporters at the White House. "That's another lie."
"They are the number one state of terror in the world," he added. "They put their finger up in the air and disrespected the United States. They shouldn't have done that. ... Frankly, it's getting harder for me to make a deal with Iran.
"They are a very mixed up country."
Iran said the accused spies were captured when they tried to escape, and that some of them have been sentenced to death. Fars also published photos of some of those Iran accused of being agents.
"The rulings for these spies have been issued and a number of them will be executed as corruptors on Earth," a ministry official told reporters Monday.
The Iranian intelligence director said the CIA actively recruits Iranian citizens online to work as agents. Ali Shamkhani, Iran's Supreme National Security Council chief, said last month "cyber-espionage" agents had been discovered working against Tehran. It wasn't initially clear if those agents are connected to those announced Monday.
"We provided the information on the exposed network to some other allied countries in which it had been operating, which resulted in the exposing and dismantling of the US intelligence officers network and arrest and conviction of some CIA agents in different countries," Shamkhani said at the time.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also questioned Tehran's claims.
"It's part of their nature to lie to the world," he told Fox News. "I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions they've taken."
Monday's announcement by Iran came amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. In May, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration tightened sanctions over Tehran's nuclear activities -- and assaults on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June brought blame against the regime from Western governments. Iran has also stirred concerns by moving away from the 2015 nuclear accord -- notably, increasing uranium enrichment. Last month, Tehran exceeded the deal's cap for stockpiled uranium and officials said they will produce as much as they need.
Iran said in April it has discovered the presence of nearly 300 CIA agents in the region in recent years.