UK: Slay plot an escalation of Iran's terror ties

October 13, 2011 - 1:40 PM

LONDON (AP) — The alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. marks an escalation of Iran's sponsorship of terrorism overseas, Britain's foreign secretary said Thursday, as Europe and others discussed their response.

William Hague told lawmakers that Britain was working with the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the European Union to agree on tough international action over the purported plan to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir in a bombing at his favorite Washington restaurant.

FBI Director Robert Mueller says many lives could have been lost in the plot to kill the Saudi envoy. In Washington, President Barack Obama told a news conference Thursday that the U.S. can support all of the allegations of an assassination plot.

A U.S. criminal complaint accuses two Iranian suspects of hiring a would-be assassin in Mexico — who also was a paid informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and told U.S. authorities about the details of the plot.

Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old U.S. citizen who also holds an Iranian passport, was charged along with Gholam Shakuri, who authorities said was a Quds Force member and is still at large in Iran.

"This would appear to constitute a major escalation in Iran's sponsorship of terrorism outside its borders," Hague told the House of Commons on Thursday. "We are in close touch with the U.S. authorities and will work to agree an international response, along with the U.S., the rest of the EU and Saudi Arabia."

Britain had previously accused Iran of supplying weaponry and assistance to attacks against U.K. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and of arming other militias in the Middle East.

Hague said Britain was aware of "indications that this deplorable plot was directed by elements of the Iranian regime, with the involvement of senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp's Quds Force."

In Vienna, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister accused Tehran of "murder and mayhem" and said his country was working on a "measured response" to the alleged Iranian attempt to assassinate Riyadh's ambassador.

"We will not bow to such a pressure," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters. "We hold them accountable for any action they take against us."

The Saudi-headquartered Gulf Cooperation Council joined in condemning the alleged assassination attempt, saying that it was harmful to relations between the six GCC-member countries and Iran. In other critical comments, the Arab League said any attack on diplomats would undermine efforts to achieve international peace and security in the region, and strain relations between Arab Gulf countries and Iran.

Other European nations also called for action over the alleged plot.

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has demanded an explanation from Tehran over the alleged plot, the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Indications of the involvement of Iranian government agencies cause even greater concern," the ministry said. "The federal government calls upon the Iranian government for a comprehensive explanation of the allegations. Those who took part the attack plans and their backers must be held accountable."

Meanwhile, in an initial cautious comment, Italy said that if the U.S. allegations were confirmed there could be "serious consequences" for Iran.

"If the facts are confirmed, they would constitute a grave responsibility which could bring about serious consequences," said a brief statement from Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's office.

Italy for years was Iran's No. 1 trading partner in the European Union with a strong presence in Iran's gas market through its oil and gas giant Eni SpA. But under pressure to isolate Tehran over its disputed nuclear program, Italy in recent years trimmed back its commercial ties. Eni announced last year it was pulling out entirely after current contracts expire.

Hague said Britain would work with allies to agree on new sanctions — likely to include travel bans and asset freezes — against those linked to the plot.

However, diplomats have indicated Britain would not support any calls for military action.

One of the five Iranians made the subject of sanctions by the U.S. Treasury on Tuesday, a Quds commander called Qasem Soleimani, is already named in United Nations and European Union sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program.

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Angela Charlton in Paris, David Rising in Berlin, Nicole Winfield in Rome and Aya Batrawy in Cairo contributed to this report