NEW YORK (AP) _ A Soviet citizen arrested on espionage charges denied involvement in spying Tuesday and charged he was set up by the FBI.

Gennadiy Zakharov, in his first news conference since his Aug. 23 arrest, also said there was no comparison between his arrest and the subsequent arrest in Moscow of American reporter Nicholas Daniloff.

Zakharov, a United Nations employee, spoke inside the Soviet Mission in Manhattan. He was released Friday into the custody of Soviet officials after the Soviet government agreed to release Daniloff from a jail in Moscow.

''Imagine my surprise when I was seized. I was hurt (by FBI agents) at the time,'' Zakharov said. ''In fact, I thought it was terrorists, because so many Russian citizens are subject to threats here.''

Zakharov claimed he was handed a package by FBI agents, then wrestled to the ground and arrested on a Queens subway platform.

''Imagine my surprise that they were FBI. Obviously, I was set up,'' said Zakharov, who claimed that the federal agency used a man named ''John'' to arrange the arrest.

Federal authorities said Zakharov was seized by three FBI agents as he tried to pay $1,000 to an informant for classified documents on a U.S. Air Force jet engine.

They said Zakharov was thumbing through the documents when they approached him and identified themselves. Zakharov shouted, ''No 3/8'' and ran down the platform before being subdued by the agents, who said he had a receipt signed by the informant.

Zakharov, 39, whom the FBI identified as an agent for the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, said he met John through an ad posted on a bulletin board at Queens College offering help in research and preparing papers.

But U.S. officials said Zakharov first recruited the informant, a permanent resident alien from Guyana, when the informant, identified only as ''Birg,'' was a student at the college in 1983.

Zakharov was a scientific affairs officer assigned to the Center for Science and Technology for Development at the United Nations.

''I have no doubt I was under constant surveillance while here, so it follows John would become known to them,'' said Zakharov.

Zakharov said John was intimidated into working for the FBI because he was an alien.

''I believe FBI officers did approach John, and bearing in mind ... his desire to obtain U.S. citizenship, brought heavy-handed pressure upon him with a view to using our relations to organize a provocation,'' he said.

Soviet officials barred most reporters who showed up from attending the news conference, at which Zakharov read a short statement. He then answered a question from a reporter for the Soviet newspaper Pravda before taking queries from Western journalists.

Zakharov and Daniloff remain charged with espionage and are not allowed to return to their countries. U.S. officials insist Daniloff is innocent and that the charges against him were made in retaliation for Zakharov's arrest.

Soviet officials Tuesday issued a statement calling for Zakharov's immediate release.

Zakharov repeatedly said there was no comparison between his arrest and the subsequent arrest of Daniloff. Asked if he felt any sympathy for the 51-year- old Daniloff, Zakharov replied, ''No ... As far as I am concerned there is no connection whatsoever between the two cases.''

After calling reporters to the news conference, Soviet officials refused to allow more than three camera crews and three newspaper reporters inside for the 45-minute session. More than three dozen reporters milled outside until those allowed inside came out to brief them about the news conference.

Eugene Kotovoy, deputy permanent representative at the mission, said at the news conference the partial ban was prompted by the U.S. government's refusal to allow Soviet journalists into a Daniloff news conference in Moscow last week.

The FBI, responding to Zakharov's charges, issued a statement saying the bureau's affidavit seeking search and arrest warrants and Zakharov's indictment ''both met the requirements of probable cause.''

''The FBI will not add credibility to today's assertions by Mr. Zakharov and has no further comment,'' the statement said.

Zakharov said at the news conference there were two people who could verify he is a legitimate scientist doing legitimate work. They are Rodney Nichols, a vice president at Rockefeller University, and Yannis Tsividis of Columbia University, he said.

Nichols, when asked by NBC News if he knew Zakharov's work, said: ''Nope, not a thing.'' NBC News said Tsividis was out of the country and unavailable for comment. A call to his Manhattan residence Tuesday night went unanswered.