Obama vows to hold Iran accountable for assasination plot

October 17 2011 at 11:36am
William Branigin

PRESIDENT Barack Obama pledged this week to hold Iran accountable for “dangerous and reckless behaviour” in pursuing an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US.

In his first comments on the purported murder-for-hire scheme unveiled on Wednesday by the Justice Department, Obama described the US allegations as well supported by evidence and said they would contribute to stronger enforcement of existing sanctions against Iran.

Speaking at the White House after meeting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Obama said the Iranian American businessman arrested in connection with the alleged plot “had direct links, was paid by and directed by individuals in the Iranian government.”

US authorities have identified two officials in Iran’s elite special operations Quds Force as being behind the plot, and one of them was formally charged. But neither the Justice Department nor Obama would say how high in the Iranian leadership the alleged plot is believed to reach.

Asked whether he believes Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knew about the plot, Obama said: “What we can say is that there are individuals in the Iranian government who are aware of this plot… We believe that even if at the highest levels there was not detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity.”

He said the US has contacted its allies and members of the international community and “laid the facts before them”.

After they have analysed those details, he added, “there will not be a dispute that this is in fact what happened.”

The alleged assassination plot “is not just a dangerous escalation”, Obama said. “This is part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behaviour by the Iranian government… And for Iran to have been involved in a plot like this indicates the degree to which it has been outside of accepted norms of international behaviour for far too long.”

In an interview, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the alleged plot is triggering additional Treasury Department sanctions against Iranian individuals and would spur other countries to take similar action.

“We think the facts of this case, which include the outreach by the Iranian authorities to a Mexican drug cartel seeking a murder-for-hire assassin, will be quite disturbing to officials in countries that have in the past given Iran a pass,” Clinton said.

“So I think… that this will be an opportunity to further isolate Iran. … It will give us extra leverage in dealing with Iran. And I think that … you’ll see a more reluctant stance by many countries towards dealing with Iran, towards doing Iran’s bidding.”

Separately, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the US has had at least one “direct contact” with Iran about the US allegations.

She did not provide details, but a US official said the contact was made through Iran’s mission to the UN in New York, the Associated Press reported.

The US and Iran have had no diplomatic relations with each other for more than 31 years.

Obama said the US would respond first by prosecuting “those individuals who have been named in the indictment”.

In addition to the arrested businessman, Mansour Arbabsiar, 56, the Justice Department charged Gholam Shakuri, who was described as a member of the Quds Force, the foreign operations wing of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Shakuri, who is based in Iran, remains at large. Another Quds Force official has been named by US authorities but not yet charged.

Obama said the US would also “apply the toughest sanctions and continue to mobilise the international community to make sure Iran is further and further isolated and pays a price for this kind of behaviour”.

He said he expected the international community to become more unified against Iran.

“Now, we don’t take any options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran, but what you can expect is that we will continue to apply the sorts of pressure that will have a direct impact on the Iranian government until it makes a better choice in terms of how it is going to interact with the rest of the international community,” Obama said.

“I think that what you’re going to see is folks throughout the Middle East region question their ability to work effectively with Iran.”

He said countries in the region already recognise that “Iran in fact has been hypocritical when it comes to dealing with the Arab Spring, given their own repressive activities” and their support for a brutal Syrian government.

“This is a pattern of behaviour that I think increasingly the international community is going to consider out of bounds and is going to continue to punish Iran for,” Obama said.

“Unfortunately, the Iranian people are the ones that probably suffer the most from this regime’s behaviour.” – Washington Post- Bloomberg

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