U.S. ups pressure on Iran over alleged plot to kill Saudi envoy
Top officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, lashed out at Iran, pledging that the United States would increase its efforts to isolate the country, already the target of economic sanctions in connection with its nuclear weapons policy.
As it has before, the White House insisted that no options were off the table in dealing with Iran, which Carney accused of "a dangerous escalation of the long-standing use of violence."
On Tuesday, U.S. officials announced they had foiled a plot to assassinate Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir. Two men, including a member of the Iranian special foreign actions unit known as the Quds Force, were charged in New York federal court with conspiring to kill the diplomat.
Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian American, is in custody; the whereabouts of the other man are unknown, officials said. Arbabsiar, who lives in Texas, traveled to Mexico, where he tried to hire a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination with a bomb attack at one of the ambassador's favorite restaurants in Washington, according to U.S. officials.
In addition to the criminal charges, the U.S. announced sanctions against five people, including two described as senior officials of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, who were accused of overseeing the alleged plot. Iran has called the charges a "fabrication."
Carney said he could not answer questions about details of the alleged plot, but he left no doubt about the target of the administration's anger.
“Clearly, senior levels of the Quds Force were engaged in the plotting,” Carney said at a televised briefing. “We will hold Iran accountable for its actions here.”
Carney said the United States would work bilaterally and through international institutions such as the United Nations "to continue to isolate Iran." Those steps will likely include additional sanctions. Carney said such sanctions have already been working to weaken Iran's economy but that no options were being ruled out in dealing with this latest incident, a repetition of the longtime U.S. position that it would consider any step to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
"Diplomats are concerned with a flagrant violation of international law," Carney said. "We don't believe we will have any difficulty in persuading other nations that this is a very, very serious matter."
Carney's comments closely tracked those of Biden and Clinton earlier in the day, as the Obama administration seized on the alleged plot to further its preexisting policy to isolate Iran.
"It is an outrageous act, where the Iranians are going to have to be held accountable," Biden said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"It's an outrage that violates one of the fundamental premises upon which nations deal with one another, and that is the sanctity and safety of their diplomats," he said.
Speaking in Washington, Clinton urged other nations to join in condemning Iran.
"This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system. Iran must be held accountable for its actions," she said in televised comments.
"We will work closely with our international partners to increase Iran's isolation and the pressure on its government, and we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security," she said.
-- Michael Muskal
Photo: Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., right; Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, center; and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III talk to reporters about the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images