Iran to probe US plot charge

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in parliament in Tehran on October 16, 2011 (AFP Photo / HO)
After several days of refusal, Teheran has agreed to look into an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to US, which Washington says was ordered by a senior Iranian intelligence officer.

­Teheran will examine the charges brought against a US citizen of Iranian origin, who allegedly tried to hire Mexican assassins to kill the diplomat, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Monday.

The minister stressed that Iran remains skeptical about the allegations, saying they were “lies cooked up to deceive the world community and inflate political ballyhoo.”  Teheran has also asked the US to provide evidence to back up its claims.

Earlier, a number of Iranian officials, including the Revolutionary Guard top brass and the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself, rejected any possibility that Iran had a hand in the scandalous affair.

“They accuse the Iranian nation of terrorism. Terror and terrorism is the act of nations who do not have any culture. The Iranian nation has a rich culture and has been a pioneer of civilization. It does not need acts of terror,” Ahmadinejad said on Sunday in an address to parliament.

The US has accused the Quds Force, which is the intelligence branch of the Revolutionary Guard, of using Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized US citizen, as a middleman to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington. The plot was foiled due to the fact that Arbabsiar’s contact was a US informant who exposed the conspiracy, the allegations state.

The charges brought to a US court last Tuesday resulted in a major diplomatic scandal, with a number of American politicians calling for tough sanctions against Teheran over the alleged plot. President Barack Obama pledged on Friday to impose a new round of sanctions soon.

US diplomats are now whipping up international support against Iran, aiming to bring the issue to the UN Security Council. A State Department delegation has arrived in Moscow with the goal of convincing the Kremlin that Iranian intelligence did have a hand in the plot. Washington is also in talks with China and Turkey with a similar agenda.

­Whose plot?

­Meanwhile, some experts say the story smells of a US intelligence “sting” operation. Inter Press Service analyst Gareth Porter says the criminal complaint against Arbabsiar and his cousin, Ali Gholam Shakuri, is very vague when describing Arbabsiar’s first meetings with the FBI informant. It provides no incriminating quotes from the defendant, and does not indicate what the goal of the meeting was.

“In the complaint, the closest to a semblance of evidence that Arbabsiar sought help during that first meeting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador is the allegation, attributed to the DEA informant, that Arbabsiar said he was ‘interested in, among other things, attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia,’” the analyst points out.

Porter suggests that Arbabsiar sought contacts with the Mexican drug mafia to sell opium. Iran is responsible for 85% of worldwide opium seizures due to its proximity to Afghanistan, which opens opportunities for corrupt officers of the law to steal and smuggle the drugs. The defendant may have tried to negotiate such a deal, but it was actually the informant who convinced him to conspire in an assassination plot under an order from the FBI, the author says.

“The fact that not a single quote from Arbabsiar shows that he agreed to assassinating the ambassador, much less proposed it, suggests that he was either non-committal or linking the issue to something else, such as the prospect of a major drug deal with the cartel,” he believes.