Iran: Ready for Defense Cooperation with Egypt, Libya

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

IANS

Tehran:  Iran is ready to initiate defense cooperation with Egypt and Libya, Iran’s defence minister said Saturday.

‘Iran is ready to initiate cooperation, but they (Egypt and Libya) should also call for it,’ Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said, reported Xinhua citing the Mehr news agency.
He said that Egypt and Libya are currently in transitional period, but there will be no problem for Iran to start cooperation with them in all areas including defence.
Commenting on the US accusations that Iranian government was involved in a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, Vahidi said it is an old policy which repeatedly takes new shapes trying to put pressure on the Islamic republic.

Vahidi also criticized the European Union(EU) for following US policies towards Iran. The EU’s support and imposition of more sanctions against Iran, is another link in the chain of the West’s actions against Iran, he said.

The US said on Oct 11 that Manssor Arbabsayara, a 56-year-old US citizen holding both Iranian and US passports, and Gholam Shakuri, a member of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps(IRGC), were charged with sponsoring and promoting terrorist activities abroad, including a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Arbabsayara was arrested by US authorities, while Shakuri remains in Iran.

The high-profile accusations have brought fresh tensions to relations between the two arch-foes, with Iran fiercely denying such charges.

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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)

Questions Abound over Iran “Plot” to Kill Saudi Envoy

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Alistair Lyon

2011-10-12T013728Z_261663125_GM1E7AC0QST01_RTRMADP_3_USA-SECURITY-IRAN

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir speaks to the media at the Mideast Peace Conference in Annapolis, in this November 27, 2007 file photo. The United States accused Iran on October 11, 2011 of backing a plot to kill al-Jubeir, escalating tensions with Tehran and stirring up a hornet’s nest in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia and Iran have long jostled for power.                    

REUTERS/Jason Reed/Files

LONDON (Reuters) – You couldn’t make it up — or could you?

U.S. allegations that an Iranian spy outfit attempted to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington in a convoluted plot involving a U.S. informant posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel seem bizarre to say the least.

Still, Washington says the drama justifies new international sanctions against Iran and Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief insists that “somebody in Iran” must pay the price.

“The burden of proof and the amount of evidence in the case is overwhelming and clearly shows official Iranian responsibility for this,” Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said.

The potential consequences are dire in a tense region where the United States and Israel reserve the right to attack Iran to stop it acquiring a nuclear bomb, a goal Tehran disavows.

For starters, the row could throttle any slim chance of resuming negotiations to settle the nuclear dispute.

Saudi-Iranian acrimony has ratcheted up this year, especially since Saudi troops intervened to help Bahrain’s Sunni rulers crush protests led by the island’s Shi’ite majority and fomented, according to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, by Iran.

From across the Middle East’s Arab-Persian and Sunni-Shi’ite faultlines, Riyadh also accuses Tehran of inciting unrest among minority Shi’ites in its own oil-rich Eastern Province, and has often urged the United States in the past to attack Iran, according to diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

The plot suspects are Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, arrested on September 29 in New York, and Gholam Shakuri, said to be a member of Quds Force, the covert, operational arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. He is thought to be in Iran.

U.S. evidence rests mainly on Arbabsiar’s alleged confession that he had acted for men he thought were top Quds officials.

MOTIVE AND MEANS

Yet questions abound over the putative plot, not least the classic ones of motive and means. Many analysts are skeptical.

What could Iran hope to gain from an assassination that would have brought fierce retribution? Why try to recruit a hitman from a Mexican drug cartel instead of using its own?

On the other hand, why would the United States, even with a presidential election looming next year, go public with such accusations unless they were well founded, knowing the impact they could have on an already volatile Middle East?

“Killing the Saudi envoy in America has no benefit for Iran,” said independent Iranian analyst Saeed Leylaz. “Why should Iran create hostility when the region is boiling?

Dismissing the “very amateur scenario” as out of character, he said: “Iran might have conducted some political adventurism like denying the Holocaust, but an assassination attempt, particularly in America, is so un-Iranian.”

It would certainly be a departure for Iran, although it has assassinated its own dissidents abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and it has used Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Shi’ite militias in Iraq to further its own aims.

Decision-making in Tehran is murky and factional rivalry is rife. But the idea that rogue Quds elements could concoct such a momentous plot seems a stretch. That Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would authorize it seems more so.

“The United States would not blame the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) without substantial evidence,” argued U.S.-based global intelligence company Stratfor.

“However, this plot seems far-fetched considering the Iranian intelligence services’ usual methods of operation and the fact that its ramifications would involved substantial political risk,” it added.

Former CIA agent Robert Baer poured scorn on the reported Iranian conspiracy. “This stinks to holy hell,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “The Quds Force are very good. They don’t sit down with people they don’t know and make a plot. They use proxies and they are professional about it.”

CONSEQUENCES UNCLEAR

How this lurid episode in the adversarial relationships between Iran, the United States and its Saudi ally will play out in a Middle East already in turmoil is not yet clear.

Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said the “fabricated allegations” were a U.S. bid to divert attention from Arab uprisings that Iran says were inspired by its own Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979.

Tehran has watched in glee as popular revolts have ousted U.S. allies in Egypt and Tunisia, even if Islam has not been the overt driving force behind the surge of Arab unrest – it may have more in common with Iran’s own street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.

Iran, however, is disconcerted by the upheaval in Syria, its only solid Arab ally and overland link to Hezbollah.

The fall of President Bashar al-Assad would damage Iran’s “resistance” axis and perhaps strengthen Saudi Arabia and Turkey, its main Sunni rivals for influence in the Middle East.

Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is already on a U.S. sanctions list for allegedly supporting Assad’s violent six-month-old crackdown on dissent.

Nevertheless, it seems doubtful that any of the protagonists would want to use the alleged Iranian plot as a pretext for all-out confrontation in a region the world depends on for oil.

Given that no one was hurt, Iran, the United States and Saudi Arabia may avert any violent fallout — although Washington clearly intends to push for further international punishment of Iran for its defiance of U.S. policy.

“More U.S. sanctions will be about the limit of it,” said Alastair Newton, a former senior British Foreign Office official and now senior political analyst for Japanese bank Nomura. “The U.S. case hardly looks solid, either, so let’s wait and see.”

U.S. officials have themselves acknowledged that the details of the plot smack of a Hollywood script, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jesting: “Nobody could make that up, right?”

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Peter Apps and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London, and Washington/New York bureaux; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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