Obama pressed to get tough on Iran for terror plot

Lawmakers: Use sanctions

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Political pressure mounted on the Obama administration Wednesday to take a tougher stance on Iran after the disclosure of a Tehran-linked plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in a Washington restaurant.

Members of Congress from both parties are calling for the expulsion of Iranian diplomats and tighter economic sanctions against the regime, which engaged Wednesday in a public counteroffensive against the charges, calling them “an American-Zionist plot” to distract the U.S. populace from its economic woes.

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, said the administration’s response was “timid,” and he called on the administration to fully enforce U.S. sanctions imposed by Congress.

Mr. Sherman, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, said administration officials had failed to fully implement the sanctions for fear of damaging business interests and offending allies.

“The problem is that the State Department won’t do anything that is opposed by any European government or multinational company,” he said in an interview.

The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter T. King of New York, said the Obama administration should expel Iranian diplomats.

“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,” Mr. King said in a statement.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the plot “may be” an act of war, although he stopped short of saying so definitively.

Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen who also holds an Iranian passport, and Gholam Shakuri, a Tehran-based senior official in Iran’s Qods Force religious militia, were charged Tuesday with trying to hire a supposed member of the deadly Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas to bomb an unspecified D.C. restaurant the ambassador was known to frequent.

Mr. King said that if the plot to kill Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir — uncovered using a sting operation with a paid Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant — had succeeded, it would have been “an act of war” by Iran against the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Sherman said that “if there are any [diplomats] that we have evidence are intelligence officers,” they should be expelled.

But he added: “That is exactly the kind of token and meaningless response that I expect will be oversold to the American people” as a tough response.

State Department and other officials said Wednesday that U.S. diplomats were reaching out to allies to orchestrate a response that would further isolate Iran. At the United Nations, officials briefed Security Council members. In Washington, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with the diplomatic corps to outline evidence about the plot.

The Iranian government, through official and unofficial channels, issued a broad attack Wednesday on the U.S. and denounced the terrorism charges as an attempt to distract the public.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech on state TV that “the capitalist system and the West” were doomed, as shown by the “Occupy Wall Street” protests and “the heavy-handed treatment of the demonstrators by U.S. officials.”

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