Washington: The Obama administration plans to leverage charges that Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia`s ambassador to the United States into a new global campaign to isolate the Islamic republic.
U.S. officials say the administration will lobby for the imposition of new international sanctions as well as for individual nations to expand their own penalties against Iran based on allegations that Iranian agents tried to recruit a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi envoy on American soil.
"This really, in the minds of many diplomats and government officials, crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview Tuesday. She said she and President Barack Obama want to "enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat" from Iran.
Clinton and other U.S. officials said the alleged plot is a gross violation of international law and further proof that Iran is the world`s leading state sponsor of terrorism, a label Washington has for decades applied to the Iranian government. The officials said it also underscores concerns that despite its denials Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.
"The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder-for-hire to kill the Saudi ambassador? Nobody could make that up, right?" Clinton said shortly after U.S. prosecutors accused two suspected Iranian agents of trying to murder Saudi envoy Adel Al-Jubeir. The purported plan was to carry out the assassination with a bomb attack while Al-Jubeir dined at his favorite restaurant.
Obama called al-Jubeir on Tuesday to declare that the foiled assassination plot was a "flagrant" violation of U.S. and international law, the White House said. The president expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia and said he was committed to ensuring the security of diplomats in the United States. White House press secretary Jay Carney disclosed broad outlines of the call in a statement.
Iran`s Parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, called the Justice Department`s claims a "childish game."
"These are cheap claims. By giving it a wide media coverage, it was evident that they are trying to cover up their own problems," Larijani told an open session of the parliament Wednesday.
"They (Americans) suffered a political stroke and learned that they had begun a childish game," he said. "We have normal relations with the Saudis. There is no reason for Iran to carry out such childish acts."
The State Department late Tuesday warned Americans around the world of the potential for terrorist attacks against U.S. interests. It said Iranian-sponsored attacks could include strikes in the United States.
In the an interview, Clinton predicted an Iranian denial, but added: "We want to reassure our friends that the complaints against Iran are well-founded."
Saudi Arabia is the main Sunni Muslim power center in the Middle East, and the one most closely allied with the United States, Iran`s declared enemy. Iran is the most powerful and influential Shiite Muslim state. The two have long vied for power and influence across the region. Saudi Arabia and other countries like Bahrain have accused Iran of trying to create dissent in their countries this year, during democracy movements across the region.
But it is not clear what motive Iran might have had for trying to kill the Saudi official. An assassination might have ignited anti-American sentiment in Saudi Arabia and beyond by highlighting the close relationship, which is one explanation for Iran`s alleged involvement. Yet Iranian fingerprints on the killing surely would have meant retribution that Iran`s military is ill-prepared to meet.
The U.S. criminal complaint said the Iranian plotters hired a would-be assassin in Mexico who was a paid informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and told U.S. authorities all about their plot, which they code-named "Chevrolet."
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old U.S. citizen who also holds an Iranian passport, was charged along with Gholam Shakuri, who authorities said was a Quds Force member and is still at large in Iran. The Treasury Department listed addresses for Arbabsiar in two Texas cities — the Austin suburb of Round Rock and the Gulf city of Corpus Christi — and prosecutors say he frequently traveled to Mexico for business.