U.S.: Iran may face ‘serious consequences’ over plot
Washington (CNN) — Iran defiantly slapped back Wednesday at allegations of an Iranian scheme to kill a Saudi Arabian ambassador, upbraiding a Swiss diplomat who represents American interests in Tehran and accusing the United States of fabricating the plot to deflect the focus from its own pressing problems.
This comes amid widespread outrage toward Iran from world leaders and the U.S. imposition of sanctions on an Iranian airline with ties to the government entity accused in the plot.
In Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss charge d’affaires to answer questions about the U.S. allegations, Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported. Mehr said the ministry strongly protested the allegations.
The Swiss diplomat said he would inform the United States of the complaint. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran because Iran and the United States don’t have diplomatic relations.
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Ali Larijani, Iran’s speaker of parliament, railed against Washington.
“The Americans acted unprofessionally in their childish play against Iran,” he said. “The Americans want to divert attention from their own domestic problems as well as the awakening of the Muslim world by initiating a stupid mischief which apparently is quite complicated.”
Iran Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the plot “an amateurish scenario” and told the news agency ISNA there have been similar allegations over the past few decades.
“The Islamic Republic never seeks to get involved in this kind of behavior and, despite 32 years of pressure brought to bear on Iran, the country has always acted and reacted ethically,” he said.
Salehi said the United States is diverting attention from its “economic troubles.”
“We do not seek confrontation,” he said. “If they want to confront us and impose their will on us, then that would be their end. If they are capable of hitting us with their fist, we are capable of slapping them. If we slap them it would be so hard that they can no longer hold their heads up. We emphasize that we do not want confrontation, that we want interaction. If they decide to create a confrontation and impose it on the Iranian nation, the consequences for them will be dire.”
But Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal delivered tough words against Iran: “Someone in Iran is going to have to pay the price” for the plot.
Al-Faisal, a key member of the royal family, was speaking at a conference in London on Wednesday. His representatives said the remark was his personal view and not the official Saudi position. The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington has called the plot “a despicable violation of international norms, standards and conventions” and said it “is not in accord with the principles of humanity.”
Vice President Joe Biden, appearing on CBS, said “the consequences for Iran, I think, will be serious.”
“I think what we have to do is unite the entire world against the Iranian behavior,” he said.
Biden said the United States is laying out its case about the plot to world leaders. He told NBC that there must be “accountability for Iran and further isolation of Iran in terms of their ability to operate around the world.” Iran is already subject to numerous American sanctions.
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“Every nation in the world, when they learn the facts of this, will be outraged that (Iran) would violate such an international norm, in addition to obviously being a crime to assassinate anybody, and in the process probably have killed scores of Americans,” the vice president said on NBC.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “Iran must be held accountable for its actions” and is reaching out for support from other countries to jack up the pressure on Iran.
“This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system,” she said.
Clinton cited the punishment of Iranian individuals and institutions with sanctions. Her remarks were made as the Treasury Department announced the sanctioning of Mahan Air, an Iranian commercial airline.
It was cited for “providing financial, material and technological support” to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, the Iranian group linked to the plot.
The airline flies Quds Force personnel between Iran and Syria for military training and facilitated their travel in and out of Iraq. It provides transportation services to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group regarded as a foreign terror organization, the department said.
“Mahan Air’s close coordination with the IRGC-QF — secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights — reveals yet another facet of the IRGC’s extensive infiltration of Iran’s commercial sector to facilitate its support for terrorism,” said the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen. “Following the revelation about the IRGC-QF’s use of the international financial system to fund its murder-for-hire plot, today’s action highlights further the undeniable risks of doing business with Iran.”
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns was to brief U.S. diplomats Wednesday to explain the details of how the scheme evolved, how the Obama administration handled it, and the need to hold Iran accountable, a State Department official said.
The United States also planned to get in touch with leaders from the Arab League; the Gulf Cooperation Council, a coalition of Persian Gulf nations; and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which consists of 56 mainly Islamic states and promotes Muslim solidarity, said two Obama administration officials.
The State Department issued a worldwide travel alert about “the potential for anti-U.S. actions” after the alleged plot was thwarted.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain is consulting with the United States on further action against Iran.
“We are in close touch with the U.S. authorities and we will support measures to hold Iran accountable for its actions,” the spokesman said.
The French Foreign Ministry said the plot is an “extremely serious affair, an outrageous violation of international law, and its perpetrators and backers must be held accountable.”
Details about the case surfaced Tuesday.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are accused of a conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, the FBI said Tuesday.
Arbabsiar was arrested in September. David Tomscha, a friend of Arbabsiar in Corpus Christi, Texas, said the man traveled to Iran once a year and owns property in Iran.
Shakuri remains at large, the bureau said.
The two were in a group that began planning this spring to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir, the FBI said.
Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said Al-Jubeir “is so close to King Abdullah that I think it does make him a target to some degree. He is almost like a son to the king.”
The Saudi ambassador was not the only intended target, U.S. officials said. The suspects also discussed attacking the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington and possibly Buenos Aires, a senior U.S. official said.
It is unclear why the Saudi ambassador was targeted, the official said, or how widespread knowledge or approval of the plot was within Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government.
Authorities developed the case against the suspects with the help of an undercover informant posing as an associate of a Mexican drug cartel, according to officials and an FBI agent’s affidavit released Tuesday.
Arbabsiar and the undercover informant allegedly discussed using explosives to kill the ambassador, possibly in a crowded restaurant, according to the affidavit.
The informant named $1.5 million as his price, it said. Arbabsiar allegedly sent $100,000 intended as a down payment, telling the informant his “cousin” had deep pockets, court documents said.
The alleged scheme involved the Quds Force, suspected of being involved in a number of foreign operations, court documents and U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials accuse the Quds Force of sponsoring attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, the affidavit released Tuesday said. In October 2007, the Treasury Department designated it as “providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizatios.”
Cooperation with the Mexican government played a key role in the investigation, U.S. officials said.
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