Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador – winning card for the US

By Anca Voinea

The US revealed on Tuesday that the authorities in Tehran had coordinated a plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in New York. The US attorney-general Eric Holder, said in a press conference that the conspiracy was ‘conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran’.

According to Mr Holder a meeting between the Iranian plotters and members of a Mexican drug cartel took place in March, and the Iranian government paid 1.5 million dollars to the drug cartel in order to carry out the assassination. Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old Iranian national with US citizenship and Gholam Shakuri from Iran, member of a special army unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps were the ones behind the conspiracy and were arrested last month in New York.

The revelation of the plot is now a new card the US can use against Iran in its efforts to force Ahmadinejad to stop the uranium enrichment programme. Should the facts be confirmed, this could also be regarded, as what the attorney general defined as a ‘significant achievement’ for the FBI and the Drug Inforcement Adrministration.

Nevertheless, the Iranian government denied the allegations and accused the US of acting in a childish manner. Coming from Iran, this is a bold statement. As recently as three weeks ago, the Iranian prime-Minister Ahmadinejad accused the US of having plotted the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Ahmadinejad’s recent speech in the UN General Assembly has led the US to adopt a more aggressive campaign against Iran. Although Mr Ahmadinejad has a long history of hostile statements towards the US, his latest speech saw representatives of 30 UNGA member states deciding to leave the room while he was denouncing ‘Western Imperialism’.

In light of this revelation, the Iranian government has tried to reaffirm its good relationship with Saudi Arabia. However, the Saudi authorities have clearly stated that Iran must pay for the alleged plot. The Saudi Prince, Turki al-Faisal said that evidence provided by the US ‘clearly shows official Iranian responsibility’. It is difficult to predict how the alleged plot will shape the relationships between the two Arab states, but the incident is likely to bring a new round of sanctions for Iran. Most importantly, it might also increase the support of the Arab states for more drastic measures against Iran.

The credibility gap is currently the biggest handicap the US have, but if the conspiracy against the Saudi Embassy is to be confirmed, Iran would itself be responsible for easing the US campaign against its nuclear programme. As Lady Catherine Ashton the EU Foreign representative noticed, the plot would be a breach of international law and would have serious implications for the authorities in Tehran.

The Obama Administration currently lacks the  necessary legitimacy to tackle the Iranian nuclear issue, thus the support of some Arab states is crucial if more drastic measures are to be applied. Aside from economic sanctions, the West has been unable to intervene in any other way mainly due to the failure of pre-emptive intervention in Iraq.

The international community no longer trusts the US after it failed to come up with clear evidence to sustain its decision to intervene militarily in Iraq. The invasion of Iraq changed the way in which the US is regarded by the international community. For most people in the region, the military intervention in Iraq has only reinforced their view that the US is more interested in oil and its influence in the Middle East than it is in the welfare of the Iraqi people.

The irony is that Iran seems more determined to acquire nuclear facilities than Saddam Hussein would have ever been prior to the invasion of Iraq. Although Ahmadinejad has repeatedly stated that the enrichment of uranium is purely for economic reasons and has allowed IAEA inspections, fears that the purpose of the programme is to build weapons of mass destruction continue to exist, especially after Iranian dissidents revealed the existence of secret uranium enrichment facilities back in 2002.

Should the alleged allegations over the plot turn out to be confirmed, this would most definitely represent an advance for the US and put a new set of cards in their hands to be played out against Iran. Perhaps this incident will mark the beginning of a renewed campaign against Iran’s nuclear program with support from the Arab states.

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