- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The GOP chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is calling on the Obama administration to expel Iranian diplomats, after U.S. officials said Tehran was behind a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

“While I intend to support the president’s ultimate decision, I believe that he should consider expelling Iranian officials, especially known intelligence officers, from the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York, and the Iranian Interests Section in Washington,” said Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, in a statement.

Mr King said that if the terror plot — in reality an elaborate sting put together by a paid DEA informant — had succeeded, it would have been “an act of war” by Iran against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said elements of the Iranian government were behind a plot to recruit a Mexican drug cartel to kill the ambassador by bombing a Washington restaurant.

“This conspiracy was conceived, was sponsored and was directed from Iran” by officials there, Mr. Holder said during a Justice Department news conference to announce a criminal indictment against two men. He vowed to “hold Iran accountable.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denied any involvement by Tehran, telling Iran’s Press TV that the accusations were “ludicrous” and a “prefabricated scenario.”

Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, a naturalized U.S. citizen who holds Iranian and U.S. passports, and Gholam Shakuri, a Tehran-based senior official in Iran’s Qods Force, face multiple charges, including conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to use interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire, and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism.

Mr. Arbabsiar is in custody in New York, and Mr. Shakuri is at large and believed to be in Iran, Mr. Holder said.

Later Tuesday, the Treasury Department announced it was designating as terrorists Mr. Arbabsiar, Mr. Shakuri and three other Iranians believed involved in the plot — Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Qods Force officials Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul Reza Shahlai.

The Qods Force is part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been designated by U.S. officials as a terrorist organization because of its role in aiding attacks on allied forces in Iraq.

According to the indictment, the conspiracy began in the spring, when Mr. Arbabsiar was approached in Tehran by his cousin, a high-ranking official in the Qods Force identified by the Treasury Department as Mr. Shalai.

The indictment says the cousin asked Mr. Arbabsiar to try to recruit a Mexican drug-trafficking organization to help kidnap Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Mr. Arbabsiar was in touch with someone he believed to be a representative of a Mexican drug cartel, but was in fact a drug trafficker and a paid informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the indictment says.

In recorded meeting and telephone conversations, Mr. Arbabsiar agreed to facilitate a $1.5 million payment from Iran to kill Mr. al-Jubeir by bombing a restaurant. A down payment of $100,000 was transferred to a special undercover FBI account.

Warned by the trafficker that as many as 100 people, including U.S. senators, would be in the restaurant and might be killed, Mr. Arbabsiar replied it was “no big deal.”

Since his arrest in late September, Mr. Arbabsiar has “confessed to his participation in the alleged plot [and] provided other valuable information about elements of the Iranian government’s role in it,” Mr. Holder said.

According to court documents, Mr. Arbabsiar has identified several of the Iranian conspirators, discussed their motivation and their roles in the plot, and picked one of them out of a photo lineup.

“The key question here will be the exact role” of the Qods Force officials, especially Mr. Shalai, said Roger Cressey, who served on the White House national security staffs of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “Was he acting on his own or was he acting at the direction of his superiors in the Iranian government?”

“Corroborating evidence” for Mr. Arbabsiar’s confession will be “critical in building a public case in the international court of public opinion,” Mr. Cressey said.

“This revelation that Iran was actively plotting an attack on U.S. soil must serve as a wake-up call,” said Rep. Iliana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Today’s news illustrates Iran’s active campaign to partner with extremist groups, drug traffickers and other outlaws based in the Western Hemisphere,” she said. “Responsible nations must unite against this threat and immediately bring to bear crippling pressure on the Iranian regime and its enablers.”

But Mr. Cressey said he remains skeptical about the possibility of international action against Iran in the plot.

“It is one thing to put together an international coalition in the aftermath of a terror attack, it’s quite different when the attack has been foiled, especially when, as in this case, it was a sting operation,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters that U.S. officials “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.”

She promised measures to “further isolate [Iran] from the international community.”

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