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U.S., Saudi Arabia Vow 'Strong International Response' To Alleged Iran-Backed Plot

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 13.10.2011 14:27

Saudi Arabia says it is considering "decisive steps" over an alleged Iranian-backed plot to assassinate its ambassador in Washington.

A statement carried by the state news agency SPA condemned what it called "the outrageous and heinous" assassination plot and said the kingdom would continue its contacts and coordination with the United States over it.

Speaking in Vienna, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said, “We will not bow to such [Iranian] pressure. We hold them accountable for any action they take against us.”

The statements came after U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Saudi King Abdullah on October 12 about the alleged plot.

The White House said Obama and King Abdullah agreed that the alleged conspiracy "represents a flagrant violation of fundamental international norms, ethics, and law."

The White House said U.S. and Saudi leaders were committed to pursuing a "strong and unified international response that holds those responsible accountable for their actions."

U.S. authorities announced this week that they had foiled a conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and accused members of the Iranian government and the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, of involvement.

Iran has dismissed the allegations as a U.S. fabrication.

But Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague says Britain will work with the United States and Saudi Arabia to agree an international response. Hague told parliament the alleged plot appears to be a "major escalation in Iran's sponsorship of terrorism outside its borders."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the alleged plot a "dangerous escalation of the Iranian government's long-standing use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism."

Increasing Pressure On Iran

Her spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, earlier told reporters that the United States was rallying countries to increase political and economic pressure on Iran.

"Whenever we do these kinds of sanctions of our own, we are encouraging countries to look at what we have done and, if they have a similar opportunity, to follow us where they can," she said. "But [they should] also to look at their relationship with Iran, which may be different than ours, look at what economic and political pressure they can nationally bring to bear."

Nuland added that the United States was putting renewed emphasis on sanctions given that a number of countries are not fully enforcing the existing ones.

U.S. authorities have arrested Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen with dual Iranian and U.S. passports accused of wiring $100,000 to a U.S. bank account to finance the alleged $1.5 million conspiracy.

U.S. authorities have also accused a second Iranian, Gholam Shakuri, of involvement in the plot. He is believed to be at large in Iran.

The two men were charged with conspiring with Iranian officials to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir on U.S. soil using explosives.

Arbabsiar is expected to appear in court on October 25 for a preliminary hearing.

Strong Denials From Iran

The U.S. Treasury has already imposed sanctions against five people it linked to the alleged assassination plot, including the two men charged over the investigation. Shakuri and three others named in the sanctions were described as members of the Quds Force.

It also imposed sanctions on an Iranian airline -- Mahan Air -- which it says flew members of the Quds Force and the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia Hizballah across the Middle East.

The Saudi news agency SPA quoted Abdullatif al-Zayani, the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as saying the purported involvement of Tehran was "severely harmful to the relations between GCC's Arab member states and Iran."

Iranian official media reported that the Foreign Ministry had summoned the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, who represents U.S. interests in the country, to "strongly" protest against the U.S. allegations.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as accusing the United States of launching a “mischievous scenario,” promising that Washington will “apologize” to Iran.

Ali Ahani, deputy foreign minister in charge of Europe and America affairs, urged Saudi Arabia "not to fall into the trap" of believing U.S. claims, saying "any disturbance in relations" between countries in the Middle East will only benefit the United States and Israel.

He added, "This pathetic and [conspiratorial] scenario is so clumsy that even American media and political circles are looking at it with doubt."

Details Emerging Of Alleged Plotter

Meanwhile, details have emerged of Arbabsiar, who has been described by the U.S. media as a “stumbling opportunist” rather than a calculating killer.

Arbabsiar, 56, emigrated as a young man to the United States and later briefly studied mechanical engineering in Texas, where he has been living for some 30 years.

He gained American citizenship after marrying his first wife. The “Houston Chronicle” reported that the couple divorced in 1987 with court records showing that his former wife sought a protective order against him before letting it drop.

He later remarried and friends said he tried his hand at a number of businesses. “The New York Times” reported: “All of them appear to have flopped, and federal and state records show a trail of liens, business-related lawsuits and angry creditors.”

In 2001, Arbabsiar was indicted for theft in connection with the sale of a store, but the charge was later dropped for lack of evidence.

A criminal complaint against Arbabsiar said he traveled to Iran and to Mexico to hire a Mexican drug cartel member to kill the Saudi ambassador in a restaurant.

"The New York Times" said his old friends and associates in Texas seemed stunned at the news “because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.” They were quoted as saying he had “no interest in religion or politics, and smoked marijuana and drank alcohol freely.”

The Associated Press news agency quoted U.S. officials as describing the alleged Iranian plot as amateurish. According to unidentified officials, the would-be covert operative made a number of mistakes. They include turning to a woman he met while working as a used-car dealer -- hoping to find a Mexican drug dealer-assassin -- and arranging an easily traceable payoff for the planned attack.

Arbabsiar’s wife, Martha Guerrero, who lives in an Austin suburb, told a local television station they were separated and that she was convinced of his innocence.

compiled from agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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