By David Gollust
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States will seek to further isolate Iran after Tehran was implicated Tuesday in a plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington. The U.S. Justice Department charged two men including an Iranian-born U.S. citizen in an elaborate plot, for which Iran denies responsibility.
The United States has long characterized Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. But the alleged plot, detailed in charges filed in a U.S. federal court in New York, marked the first allegation of Iranian involvement in a would-be terror attack on U.S. soil.
According to the court papers, an Iranian-born American citizen, Manssor Arbabsiar, approached a U.S. government informant in Texas, believing him to represent a Mexican drug cartel.
He offered $1.5 million for the drug gang to kill Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir with a bomb to be planted at a Washington restaurant and delivered a $100,000 down-payment.
Arbabsiar was arrested late last month and is said to have confessed to his role in the plot. The U.S. charge sheet says Arbabsiar conspired with Gholam Shakuri, an Iranian based official of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
At a news conference, Attorney-General Eric Holder Holder said the plot was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran and constitutes a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law.
“In addition to holding these individual conspirators accountable for their alleged role in this plot, the United States is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions,” said Holder. “Arbabsiar and Shakuri are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, among others.”
Holder did not specify what the United States will do to hold Iran accountable. But Secretary Clinton later told reporters that United States is beginning a diplomatic drive to further isolate Tehran.
“We will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a very strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms must be ended,” said Clinton.
Attorney-General Holder said the plot was directed by senior officials of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iranian military, which oversee the Quds Force, but said the United States is not alleging “at his point” that Iran’s political leadership was involved.
Iran denied involvement in the alleged plot, with a spokesman for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissing the allegations as a fabrication aimed at distracting attention from U.S. economic problems.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been rivals for regional power and influence. But counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Affairs says plotting to kill Saudi envoy Jubeir, a close advisor to King Abdullah, takes the rivalry to a new dangerous level.
“This is an upping of the ante in the extreme. Again, we need to caution that we can only comment on that which has been made public so far,” said Levitt. “But if this ends up being accurate, it is a sharp break in Iran’s traditional modus operandi.”
Levitt said the alleged plot may reflect Iranian desperation over Western nuclear sanctions and a fear it is losing influence amid pro-democracy ferment in the Middle East.
In the U.S. Congress, there were bipartisan calls for crippling pressure on Iran. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said legislators are outraged the murder scheme reached U.S. soil.
“We need to heighten the sanctions on Iran and make it clear that this kind of action will not be countenanced,” said Durbin.
The Saudi embassy in Washington called the plot a despicable violation of international norms and standards, and expressed appreciation to U.S. law enforcement for preventing a criminal act from taking place.