Saudi Says Iran Will “Pay the Price” for Alleged plot

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parisa Hafezi and Jeremy Pelofsky

TEHRAN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia vowed on Wednesday that Iran would “pay the price” for an alleged plot to kill its ambassador in Washington and U.S. officials said there could be a push for a new round of U.N. sanctions.

Tehran angrily rejected the charges laid out by a number of top U.S. officials on Tuesday as “amateurish,” but a threat nevertheless to peace and stability in the Gulf, a region critical to global oil supplies with a number of U.S. military bases.

“The burden of proof is overwhelming… and clearly shows official Iranian responsibility for this. Somebody in Iran will have to pay the price,” senior Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to Washington, said in London.

Vice President Joe Biden echoed those hawkish sentiments, telling U.S. network ABC Iran would be held accountable. He said Washington was working for a new round of international sanctions against Iran, warning that “nothing has been taken off the table.”

U.S. authorities said on Tuesday they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.

The motive for the alleged plot was not clear. Iran has in the past assassinated its own dissidents abroad, but an attempt to kill an ambassador would be a highly unusual departure.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter regional and to some extent sectarian rivals, but they maintain diplomatic ties and even signed a security agreement in 2001. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Riyadh in 2007.

The United States has led a global effort to isolate Iran and pile on United Nations sanctions in recent years over Tehran’s nuclear energy program which Washington and its regional allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia fear is a front for developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies nuclear arms ambitions.

Those allies fear Washington could take its eye off the ball on Iran. US diplomatic cables from Riyadh leaked by Wikileaks over the past year — in which Jubeir features prominently — show Riyadh repeatedly pushing the United States to take a tougher stand, including the possible use of military force.

Tensions rose between Riyadh and Tehran when Saudi Arabia sent troops to help Bahrain put down pro-democracy protests let by the island state’s Shi’ite majority that both governments accused Iran, a non-Arab Shi’ite state, of fomenting.

This month Riyadh accused some among its Shi’ite Muslim minority of conspiring with a foreign power — a reference to Iran — to cause instability, following street clashes in the Eastern Province.
But Iranian analyst Saaed Leylaz said it was hard to see why Iran would risk involving itself in such a plot.

“Killing the Saudi envoy in America has no benefit for Iran,” he said. “The consequences of this plot are dangerous … It could cause military confrontation in 2012 between Iran and America.”

ACTION AT U.N.

A Western diplomat in Riyadh said the charges would likely be discussed at the UN Security Council.

“The U.S. and Saudi Arabia and other allies are discussing the possibility of taking this to the Security Council because this is an assault on a foreign diplomat in the U.S,” he said.

President Barack Obama, who seeks reelection next year, called the alleged conspiracy a “flagrant violation of U.S. and international law.”

The United States said Tehran must be held to account and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped countries hesitant to enforce existing sanctions on Iran would now “go the extra mile.”

But also seeking recourse in the world body, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations voiced outrage and complained of U.S. “warmongering” in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. “The U.S. allegation is, obviously, a politically motivated move and a showcase of its long-standing animosity toward the Iranian nation,” Mohammad Khazaee wrote.

Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker, said the “fabricated allegations” aimed to divert attention from Arab uprisings Iran says were inspired by its own Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah — though Islam has not been the overt driving force for unrest across the Arab world.

“America wants to divert attention from problems it faces in the Middle East, but the Americans cannot stop the wave of Islamic awakening by using such excuses,” Larijani said, calling the a “childish, amateur game.”

“These claims are vulgar,” he said in an open session of parliament. “We believe that our neighbors in the region are very well aware that America is using this story to ruin our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

The State Department issued a three-month worldwide travel alert for American citizens, warning of the potential for anti-U.S. action, including within the United States.

“The U.S. government assesses that this Iranian-backed plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States,” it said in a statement.

At a news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said a convoluted plot involving monitored international calls, Mexican drug money and an attempt to blow up the ambassador in a Washington restaurant smacked of a Hollywood movie.

Attorney-General Eric Holder tied it to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), guardian of Iran’s 1979 revolution, and the Quds Force, its covert, operational arm.
“I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here,” he said.

QUDS FORCE CONNECTION

The primary evidence linking Iran to the alleged conspiracy is that the arrested suspect is said to have told U.S. law enforcement agents that he had been recruited and directed by men he understood were senior Quds Force officials.

The Quds Force has not previously been known to focus on targets in the United States.

A plot against targets inside the U.S. “would be a first for the Quds Force,” said Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA and National Security Council analyst who now heads the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“I do want to hear more about what evidence (U.S. authorities) have and why they believe” that the Quds Force was involved, Pollack said.

U.S. officials said there had also been initial discussions about other plots, including attacking the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, but no charges for those were brought.

There are no formal diplomatic ties between the Islamic republic and Washington, which accuses Tehran of backing terrorism and pursuing nuclear arms, charges Iran denies.

Iran already faces tough U.S. economic and political sanctions and Washington slapped further sanctions on five Iranians, including four senior members of Quds.

U.S. SAYS AMBASSADOR NEVER IN DANGER

U.S. officials identified the two alleged plotters as Gholam Shakuri, said to be a member of the Quds Force, and Manssor Arbabsiar, who was arrested on September 29 when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport from Mexico.

Arbabsiar, 56, a naturalized U.S. citizen with an Iranian passport, initially cooperated with authorities after being arrested. He made calls to Shakuri after being arrested and acted as if the plot was still a go, court documents said.

Arbabsiar appeared briefly in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday where he was ordered detained and assigned a public defender. He appeared in blue jeans and a dress shirt, with thinning gray hair and a scar on the left side of his face.

Officials said the Saudi ambassador, who is close to King Abdullah and has been in his post since 2007, was never in danger. Obama was briefed in June about the alleged plot.

Court documents say a plot began to unfold in May 2011 when Arbabsiar sought help from an individual in Mexico who was posing as an associate of an unidentified drug cartel and who was in fact a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant.

The unidentified paid informant tipped off law enforcement agents, according to the criminal complaint. Arbabsiar paid $100,000 to the informant in July and August for the plot, a down-payment on the $1.5 million requested.

LIKE A “HOLLYWOOD MOVIE”

Shakuri approved the plan to kill the ambassador during telephone conversations with Arbabsiar, the complaint said.

As part of the plot, the informant talked to Arbabsiar about trying to kill the ambassador at a Washington, D.C. restaurant he frequented, but warned him that could lead to dozens of others being killed, including U.S. lawmakers.

The criminal complaint said that Arbabsiar responded “no problem” and “no big deal.”

In a monitored call, Shakuri told Arbabsiar to execute the plot, saying “just do it quickly, it’s late,” court papers say.

After Arbabsiar’s arrest in New York, he gave U.S. authorities more details of Tehran’s alleged involvement, Holder said.

Mueller, the FBI director, said that “individuals from one country sought to conspire with a drug trafficking cartel in another country to assassinate a foreign official on United States soil.”

He added: “Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real and many lives would have been lost.”

The men face one count of conspiracy to murder a foreign official, two counts of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and one count each of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.

Authorities said no explosives were acquired for the plot and the weapon of mass destruction charge can range from a simple improvised device to a more significant weapon. The two men face up to life in prison if convicted.

(Additional reporting by Basil Katz in New York, James Vicini, Mark Hosenball, Tabassum Zakaria, Matt Spetalnick and Andrew Quinn in Washington and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Ahmadinejad’s Economic Savvy

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

‘He’s giving back half of the 60 billion dollars in savings directly to the people in monthly deposits. So every Iranian, man woman and child, is eligible to receive the equivalent of 40 dollars a month.’

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

2011-08-26T105634Z_682489454_GM1E78Q1GTX01_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-PALESTINIANS-AHMADINEJAD

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to worshippers before speaking at Friday prayers on Jerusalem Day in Tehran August 26, 2011.

REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

From the White House to London’s House of Commons and beyond…few Westerners have anything nice to say about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But there’s one group that has glowing words of praise for Iran’s President – and it’s based not in Tehran, but in Washington.

The International Monetary Fund’s latest report paints a pretty picture of Iran’s economy.

It says growth has hit 3.2%, and will accelerate still further.

Inflation has dropped from 25% to 12% in just two years.

And Tehran has managed to do what every major oil exporter can only dream of accomplishing: It’s slashed subsidies on gas to recoup 60 billion dollars in annual revenue. That one-sixth of Iran’s entire GDP.

Why is this happening? And how can it be despite years of economic sanctions?

What in the world is going on?

Some say the IMF’s numbers can’t be right.

But we have no reason to doubt their work. The fund reasserted this week that its projections were independent of the government.

The real story here is that Iran has actually begun implementing some economic reforms. For decades now, Iranian leaders have tried to wean its people off cheap oil – oil that is subsidized by the government.

Cheap oil that has no connection to real market prices is not sustainable. Iran knows it, and so does every country from Saudi Arabia to Venezuela. But in the same way that any talk of tax increases here in America is considered heresy, people in oil-rich countries believe as an article of faith that they deserve cheap oil.

So how did Iran finally cut out the freebies?

The backstory is a complex game of chess between Ahmadinejad and someone much more powerful – the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

One theory goes like this: The Ayatollah thought cutting subsidies would make Ahmadinejad deeply unpopular. An ensuing revolt would then remove the one man who’s come to challenge the Supreme Leader’s power.

Another theory is that Ahmadinejad felt confident enough to go ahead with the reforms because he’s crushed the opposition Green Movement.

Either way, he’s played a smart hand. He’s giving back half of the 60 billion dollars in savings directly to the people in monthly deposits.

So every Iranian, man woman and child, is eligible to receive the equivalent of 40 dollars a month.

That kind of money won’t make any difference to Tehran’s upper classes.

But that’s not Ahmadinejad’s constituency.

On the other hand if you’re poor, if you have many children, and if you make sure the whole family signs up for the deposits, you’ll probably be saying “Thanks, Mr. President”.

The key thing to note here is that President Ahmadinejad had no choice, and neither did the Ayatollah.

Iran could not afford the subsidies anymore. Its economy is highly dysfunctional with many massive distortions and subsidies. And Washington’s recent targeted sanctions are beginning to bite.

It is now harder than ever before for Iran to do business with the world. Most of the major international traders of refined petroleum have stopped dealing with Iran. Tehran now has to rely on much costlier overland shipments for its exports.

And it is now almost impossible to conduct dollar-denominated transactions with Iran. So we were left with the bizarre case last month of China resorting to the barter system to pay Iran for 20 billion dollars worth of oil.

The IMF has a point. Iran is implementing some needed reforms and as a result its economy is doing better. The irony is that it’s happening – in some part – because of our sanctions. Talk about unintended consequences.

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Ahmadinejad: US Plans to Sabotage Pak Nuclear

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

2011-06-07T144459Z_01_BTRE75614Z400_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-IRAN-NUCLEAR-AHMADINEJAD

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a news conference in Tehran June 7, 2011.

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday accused Washington, Tehran’s arch-foe, of planning to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, during a media conference in Tehran.

“We have precise information that America wants to sabotage the Pakistani nuclear facilities in order to control Pakistan and to weaken the government and people of Pakistan,” the hardline president said.

The United States would then use the UN Security Council “and some other international bodies as levers to prepare the ground for a massive presence (in Pakistan) and weaken the national sovereignty of Pakistan,” he added, without elaborating.

Pakistan is the only Islamic nation with nuclear weapons, and has close relations with Iran.

In order to fight al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, Washington has intensified its aerial operations in Iran’s southeastern neighbor.

Pakistani Islamist groups have at the same time multiplied their assaults on Pakistani military convoys and also on transport and fuel convoys through Pakistani territory intended for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

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Iranian President Visits Afghanistan

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Two Reports from Xinhua

2010-03-10T130705Z_585848497_GM1E63A1MOO01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN-IRAN

TEHRAN, March 9 (Xinhua) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday.

“It has been decided that the president will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday,” Mehmanparast told reporters in his weekly press conference.

The visit will mark Ahmadinejad’s first official visit to the country since the re-election of Hamid Karzai as Afghan president.

An unidentified Afghan official said Monday that Ahmadinejad has postponed visit to Afghanistan which is originally scheduled on Monday.

Afghan President to visit Pakistan for seeking help to hold talks with Taliban

ISLAMABAD, March 9 (Xinhua) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai will pay a two-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday and is expected to officially ask Pakistan for its assistance in the talks with Taliban, political analysts here said.

They said that the president will also seek the extradition of the top Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from Pakistan to Afghanistan for a court trial.

Sources from Pakistani Foreign Office said that President Karzai will meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and some other civil society members.

Anti-terrorism battle, U.S. army surge, repatriation of Afghan refugees and progress in the war-ravaged country will also be discussed during the meeting with Pakistani high-ups, they said.

Analysts believed that Pakistan will raise the issue of border infiltration of militants from Afghanistan and of its missing persons while Afghanistan will seek details for the recovery of the abducted Afghan diplomat Abdul Khaliq Faraakhi.

Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar has asked for Baradar extradition when he held a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik in Islamabad last month. But circumstances changed when a Pakistani court ordered not to hand over Mullah Bardar to any country.

Saleem Safi, a leading journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, told Xinhua that President Karzai’s visit is very important because the situation has changed and American authorities have given a green signal for negotiations with Taliban, adding that Pakistan could play a crucial role in the negotiations with Taliban.

It is the first visit of Karzai to Pakistan after he won his second term as President in November 2009, Safi said.

“Approach in Pakistan’s policy towards President Karzai has changed too much but there is slight shift in policy towards Afghanistan,” said the expert.

Maryana Babar, an analyst on foreign affairs agreed that the visit is very important in the backdrop of the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan, in which Pakistan has asked for a role in the negotiations process.

Babar said that Pakistani Army Chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, in his recent trip to Kabul, told the Afghan government and U.S. authorities that Pakistan could provide training to Afghan troops.

She said that the Afghan president would bring a plan of action and will ask Pakistan’s assistance in the process of reconciliation and reintegration with Taliban as Karzai has openly asked Pakistan and the Saudi Arabia for assistance in bringing Afghan Taliban to talk table on the sidelines of London conference in January.

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Mothers of Captured Young Hikers Encouraged

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Mary Ambrose

 

Shane_Bauer_25
Reporter Shane Bauer

The wait for the release of three young Americans arrested on July 31 for allegedly crossing the border illegally into Iran continues, but their families hope they have made some progress towards bringing them home.

On Friday, Nora Shroud, Laura Fattal and Cindy Hickey, the mothers of Sarah Shroud, Josh Fattal, and Shane Bauer, met in New York City to deliver a petition to the Iranian trade mission. The 2,500 signatures and appeals were collected at the families’ site, Free The Hikers, and at vigils held across the country. They all want the same thing: release the hikers from jail and allow them to leave Iran.

The trade mission accepted the petition, which the women viewed as a good sign, as were encouraging noises from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but they want action.

About a month ago, a Swiss diplomat was granted the first consular access visit to the hikers. Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Tehran, since the U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Iran. The diplomat phoned the parents and reported that their children were in good shape. The diplomat gave them chocolate and assured each of them that their companions were well. It’s assumed they are not being held together.

It’s been three weeks since Ahmadinejad said that the hikers entered the country illegally, which he noted was “considered a crime everywhere,” and despite insisting he has no control over the judiciary or the case, he told the Associated Press that he could ask that “the judiciary expedite the process and give it its full attention … and basically look at the case with maximum leniency.” The families want him to deliver on that promise.

Laura Fattal said they see this as a humanitarian issue and on CNN said she thinks that as a father, Ahmadinejad can “easily imagine how difficult it is for the families of the hikers.”

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“Where’s My Vote?”

June 18, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

“The tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

–Thomas Jefferson

2009-06-15T113648Z_01_BAZ09_RTRMDNP_3_MALAYSIA-IRAN-PROTEST

An Iranian demonstrator shows a placard against Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a demonstration outside the United Nations office in Kuala Lumpur June 15, 2009. Malaysian police used teargas to break up a crowd of around 500 Iranians demonstrating outside the United Nations mission against Iran’s contested presidential election, a Reuters photographer said.

REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

United by the common rallying cry composed of a mere three words,  “Where’s my vote?”, enraged Iranian protestors hit the streets this past Saturday in a show of defiance against the reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  They numbered in the millions as they filled the streets to march against perceived election fraud.  The popular candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was seemingly robbed of certain victory as he received overwhelming support during his candidacy.  Over the course of less than a week protestors have clashed with security personnel and pro-Ahmadinejad supporters on a daily basis.  The result has been several horrendous and often vicious encounters that have played out on live TV and social networking sites on the Internet.  Many protestors have been beaten to a bloody pulp and some have lost their lives in this unwinnable battle of hearts and minds. Iranian security forces show no mercy as they beat anyone, including women, with their batons. There have also been several recent reports of protestors being shot at with live ammunition, with at least seven protestors having been shot to death.

One would expect the commander in chief of any nation to calm the storm until cooler heads prevailed. Not Ahmadinejad, who is relentlessly holding on to his stifling reign of dictatorship. Instead of rising above the controversy, he is stirring the pot to keep the tensions at a fever pitch. Perhaps his strategy is to keep his detractors busy so that no one can challenge his win or recount the ballots.  Why else would he clamp down so hard on media reports in Iran? Some journalists have been arrested while others have been forbidden from filming the bloody protests, Iranian reformists have been detained and telecommunications have been blocked.

But somehow, some way, the information keeps flowing.  The battle has moved into cyberspace where it began and has taken on a life of its own to tell the world about the injustice being meted out to an innocent populous. Once again social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been fundamental in uniting pro-Mousavi Iranians into a central force as well as harnessing global condemnation regarding the brutality in which demonstrators have been dealt with.  Not since President Obama’s candidacy for the White House has there been such a political revolution been played out in cyberspace.  In this case, American-operated websites have been vital in keeping the stream of information running. Twitter cancelled a scheduled site maintenance and rescheduled it to coincide with the Iranian time zone, which came at the request of no other than President Obama. YouTube has also been a willingly ally and has kept video footage of demonstrations up on its website. Normally, YouTube’s policy is to remove violent videos, but plans to leave the Iranian protest videos up for their “documentary” value.

As of press time, it seems that a minuscule wind of hope is beginning to blow into the Iranian capital of Tehran. The Ayatollah Khameni has promised a partial recount of the votes in question under the auspices of representatives of both parties. Meanwhile, the fight goes on in the Iranian streets with both sides refusing to coalesce. Rallies for both sides were held on Tuesday. Touting a ban on public gatherings, opposition leaders have scheduled even more rallies in the coming days.

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