The alleged Iranian plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States is a “dangerous escalation” in Iran’s support for terrorism and must draw an international response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
Mrs Clinton urged the rest of the world to join Washington in condemning the scheme, which she said violated US and international law as well as Iran’s treaty obligations to protect diplomats.
“This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system. Iran must be held accountable for its actions,” she said.
Her remarks at a Washington conference were part of an Obama administration campaign to use the alleged plot as a springboard for increased international condemnation of Iran and perhaps for new sanctions.
“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,” Mrs Clinton said.
Her words strongly suggested that the US wants some new action against Iran from the UN Security Council, which has already approved several rounds of mild to moderate sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.
The State Department sent a cable to all American embassies and consulates around the world telling them to put the Iran case before their host governments.
The officials said the cable, sent late yesterday by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and classified secret, tells them to detail the evidence against Iran as presented by federal prosecutors.
Mr Burns was meeting the entire Washington-based diplomatic corps at the State Department today, while US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other US officials were briefing members of the UN Security Council on the foiled plot, the officials said.
US officials said Ms Rice was not asking for any specific action now, but that the US probably would make such a request soon.
Prosecutors yesterday accused Iran of plotting to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi envoy with a bomb attack in Washington.
President Barack Obama called it “a flagrant violation of US and international law”. Iran has denied the charges.
The officials said the cable instructs diplomats to ask nations to consider appropriate steps against Iran in response to the alleged scheme. The cable does not suggest any specific measures, the officials said.
Mr Obama’s top national security aides have said the administration will lobby for the imposition of new international sanctions as well as for individual nations to expand their own penalties against Iran.
Vice President Joe Biden said in a television interview today that “it’s critically important that we unite the world in the isolation” of Tehran and that “whatever action is ultimately taken... that it’s not the United States versus Iran”.
He called the purported assassination plot “really over the top”.
At a conference in London, a former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said Iran “will have to pay the price” for the plot.
“The burden of proof and the amount of evidence in the case is overwhelming and clearly shows official Iranian responsibility for it,” he said. “This is unacceptable. Somebody in Iran will have to pay the price, and that price will have to be on the terms acceptable to the norms and practices in Iran and other countries.”
The British Government said today that it was consulting the US and others over new international sanctions against Iran.
“We would support any measures that help hold Iran accountable for its actions,” said Steve Field, spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron.
The French Foreign Ministry said it had been briefed and considered the issue “an extremely serious matter, a scandalous violation of international law in which the perpetrators and sponsors must be held to account”.
Mrs Clinton and other US officials said the alleged plot is 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 programme.
“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?” Mrs Clinton said in an interview with The Associated Press yesterday, shortly after 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 Mr al-Jubeir dined at his favourite restaurant.
Mr Obama called Mr al-Jubeir yesterday to offer solidarity, the White House said.
Iran’s parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, dismissed the US charges as a “childish game”.
“We have normal relations with the Saudis,” he added. “There is no reason for Iran to carry out such childish acts.”
In New York, Alireza Miryousefi, head of the press office of the Iranian mission to the United Nations, sent UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a letter “to express our outrage” over the allegations.
“The US allegation is, obviously, a politically-motivated move and a showcase of its long-standing animosity toward the Iranian nation,” the letter said.
Late yesterday, the State Department warned Americans around the world of the potential for terrorist attacks against US interests. It said Iranian-sponsored attacks could include strikes in the United States.
Saudi Arabia is the main Sunni Muslim power centre 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 US criminal complaint said the Iranian plotters hired a would-be assassin in Mexico who was a paid informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration and told US authorities all about their plot, which they code-named “Chevrolet”.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old US 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 travelled to Mexico for business.