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The Fars News Agency quoted parliament member Alaeddin Boroujerdi as saying there was “no doubt this is a new American-Zionist plot to divert the public opinion from the crisis Obama is grappling with.”

According to reporters in Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry also complained to the Swiss Embassy and called in the ambassador personally to inveigh “against the repetition of such politically motivated allegations.” Iran and the U.S. have no diplomatic relations and Switzerland handles each country’s diplomatic affairs in the other’s capital.

Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s ambassador to the U.N., also denied the charges, sending a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that also called “the current U.S. warmongering and propaganda machine against Iran” a threat to the whole region.

In Washington, the Treasury Department moved Wednesday to sanction an Iranian commercial airline linked to the Qods Force, the Iranian subunit that is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Islamic shock troops, that U.S. officials say was behind the plot.

Mahan Air worked with the Qods Force “secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights,” said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.

Mark Dubowitz, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank that advocates tougher sanctions against Tehran, predicted harsher penalties.

“There will be a lot of sanctions activity” from both the executive and legislative branches, he said.

Legislation that had been dormant in the House and Senate would now likely pass, Mr. Dubowitz said, but he added that more sanctions would not be enough.

“We have been in a sanctions sleepwalk with Iran,” he said. “We have to move beyond that to a more forceful response. How about using drones to take out some of those” linked to the plot, or to Iran’s activities aiding insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan? he asked.

“The Iranians are clearly at the point where they feel they can act with impunity,” he said.

On Wednesday, the plot’s purported target issued its first public words, though the traditionally cautious Saudis did not announce any immediate retaliation or make specific threats. The Saudi Press Agency called the “outrageous and heinous” plot a violation of international law and asked “the international community” to “assume their responsibilities relating to these terrorist acts.”

Iran also verbally fired at Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, saying the kingdom was being used by the U.S. “This is in line with policy of divide and rule,” Farhad Bashiri told an open session of Iran’s parliament. “Saudi Arabia should be careful not to fall in the U.S. trap.”

In an indictment unsealed Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged the two men with multiple counts of conspiracy. Officials and court documents revealed that Mr. Arbabsiar approached a man he suspected was working for Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel, but who was actually a paid DEA informant.

In recorded meetings and telephone conversations, Mr. Arbabsiar agreed to facilitate a $1.5 million payment from Iran to the informant for the killing. A down payment of $100,000 was transferred from Iran to a special undercover FBI account.

Michael Braun, a veteran DEA official who retired as the agency’s chief of operations in 2008 told a hearing of Mr. Sherman’s subcommittee on Wednesday there was a dangerous convergence between drug smugglers and terrorists, not just in the Western Hemisphere but globally.

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