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U.S. sees alleged assassination plot as radical shift for Iran

FBI says it has uncovered a plan by Iranian operatives linked to senior leaders to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

October 11, 2011|By Ken Dilanian, Paul Richter and Brian Bennett, Washington Bureau

The criminal complaint lays out a series of recorded phone conversations from May to October between the two men charged in the case, Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, alleged to be an Iran-based member of the Quds Force. Arbabsiar was arrested Sept. 29 and confessed after being read his Miranda rights, the FBI said. Shakuri presumably remains in Iran.

While they interrogated him, U.S. officials showed Arbabsiar an array of seven photos, two of which were of senior members of the Quds Force, the complaint said. Arbabsiar identified one of the known Quds Force officials as a senior commander he met with in Iran who was coordinating the alleged plot.

Expressing outrage, lawmakers urged the Obama administration to confront Iran. Reps. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) called the alleged plot "an act of war." But no one was calling for a military strike, and the U.S. has been leveling economic sanctions against Iran for years, with no measurable change in behavior.

Rogers said he hoped the revelations put pressure on the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians to go along with tougher U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an appearance at the State Department, said, "We will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a very strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms, must be ended."

Asked about possible military action, the White House official said, "We never rule out options, but clearly the actions we're discussing today are increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran."

Saudi Arabia, the center of Sunni Islam, and Iran, a Shiite-dominated country, are bitter enemies. A State Department cable dated April 20, 2008, disclosed by WikiLeaks, quotes Al-Jubeir as telling American officials that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia wants to the U.S. to "cut off the head of the snake" by launching military strikes against Iran's nuclear program.

Vali Nasr, an Iranian-born Mideast specialist who advised the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011, said the alleged plot suggested that the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran "is more intense and significant than we have assumed" and may have been further inflamed by the "Arab Spring."

Times staff writers Peter Nicholas in Washington, Geraldine Baum in New York and Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston contributed to this report.

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