U.S. President Barack Obama has warned Iranian officials they would face the “toughest sanctions” possible for their complicity in a suspected plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Obama, speaking Thursday in Washington said officials at the “highest levels” of the Iranian government must be held accountable for the bizarre plot, which he called part of a pattern of “dangerous and reckless behavior.” The president said the United States would not take any options off the table in dealing with Iran.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department confirmed that American officials have been in “direct contact” with the Iranian government over the accusations. The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980.
Iran has denied the allegations, with one Iranian official calling the scenario “absurd.”
Earlier, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of seeking international influence through “murder and mayhem.” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Riyadh is working on a “measured response.” He said his country would “not bow” to Iranian pressure and would hold Tehran accountable for any action taken against Saudi interests.
Both Washington and Tehran have sent letters to the United Nations about the plot. The U.S. note says the conspiracy was “conceived, sponsored and directed” by elements of the Iranian government. The Iranian letter expresses Tehran’s “outrage” and strongly rejects what it calls “fabricated and baseless allegations.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday the alleged plot was a “major escalation in Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism.” He said Britain will work with the U.S., the EU and Saudi Arabia to agree on an international reaction.
Visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Thursday he was deeply shocked to learn of the plot and condemns all forms of terrorism.
While a number of America’s allies said evidence of the plot is convincing, Russian and Chinese envoys reacted cautiously following a U.N. briefing by U.S. ambassador Susan Rice.
The United States announced this week it had charged Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Gholam Shakuri, a member of an elite Iranian military unit, with conspiring to carry out a bomb attack on Saudi envoy Adel al-Jubeir.
U.S. officials say Arbabsiar unknowingly hired an informant of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to carry out the plot, believing the informant had ties to Mexican drug cartels capable of killing the Saudi ambassador. They say Arbabsiar confessed to making a $100,000 down payment on the scheme with a price tag of $1.5 million.
Officials arrested Arbabsiar at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on September 29, but Shakuri is still at large.