Washington/New York: The United States accused Iran on Tuesday of backing a plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, escalating tensions with Tehran and stirring up a hornet`s nest in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia and Iran have long jostled for power.
US authorities said they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran`s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.
Iran denied the charges. But President Barack Obama called the plot a "flagrant violation of U.S. and international law" and Saudi Arabia said it was "despicable."
Revelation of the alleged plot, and the apparent direct ties to the Tehran government, had the potential to further inflame tensions in the Middle East, and the United States said Tehran must be held top account.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview, expressed hope that countries that have hesitated to enforce existing sanctions on Iran would now "go the extra mile."
At a news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the convoluted plot, involving monitored international calls, Mexican drug money and an attempt to blow up the ambassador in a Washington restaurant, could have been straight from a Hollywood movie.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder alleged that the plot was the work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the guardian of Iran`s 32-year-old revolution, and the Quds force, its covert, operational arm.
"High-up officials in those (Iranian) agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot," Holder told the news conference.
"I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here," he said.
Quds force connection
The primary evidence linking the Iranian government to the planned attempt on al-Jubeir`s life are the words of one of the alleged plotters, who told U.S. law enforcement agents after his arrest that he had been recruited and directed by men he understood were senior Quds Force officials.
The Quds Force has not previously been known to focus on targets in the United States.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, was said she was briefed on intelligence about the plot, said "it looks like it`s the Quds Force, the IRGC."
"We do not know that it went up above the IRGC" to higher levels of the Iranian government, Feinstein told reporters. "I just don`t see how this could be done any other way, that even the Quds force would go out and do something on their own to assassinate somebody who represented a country, not even in that country but in a third country.
There are no formal diplomatic ties between the Islamic republic and Washington, which accuses Tehran of backing terrorism and pursuing nuclear arms, a charge Iran has denied.
Iran already faces a raft of tough economic and political sanctions and Washington slapped further economic sanctions on five Iranians including four senior members of Quds.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have likewise long been at odds. The Saudis, who see themselves as the center of the Sunni sect of Islam, have been alarmed by what they see as expansionist tendencies by majority Shi`ite Iran, whose people are primarily Persian rather than Arab.
U.S. officials said there had also been initial discussions about other alleged plots, including attacking the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, however no charges for that were revealed on Tuesday.
Rejection the allegations, Iran`s state English language Press TV said: "The Islamic Republic of Iran has rejected U.S. accusations of the country plotting to assassinate the Saudi envoy to Washington as a prefabricated scenario."
Last month hopes were raised of improved ties when Iran released two U.S. hikers accused of spying when they were arrested on the Iran-Iraq border in 2009. Holder said there was no link between the hikers`s case and the alleged plot.
According to a criminal complaint, Arbabsiar is a naturalized US citizen who holds both a US and an Iranian passport.