(Updates with Ban ki-Moon’s comments in seventh paragraph.)
Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Military force shouldn’t be ruled out as a response to an alleged Iranian assassination plot on U.S. soil, the top House Republican on intelligence issues said.
“I don’t think you should take it off the table,” Michigan Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” Rogers said other options include rallying the international community against Iran or taking action against Iranian operatives in Iraq.
Officials are considering what action to take following the Justice Department’s Oct. 11 accusation that Iran sponsored a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. The conspiracy involved a secret Iranian military unit and a citizen of the Islamic state with a U.S. passport, U.S. officials said.
President Barack Obama said this week that there were “direct links” to Iran’s government, which has rejected the allegation.
Two men were charged with conspiracy to use C-4 plastic explosives to murder Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir and attack Saudi installations in the U.S. Targets included “foreign government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with another country,” the U.S. said in a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan.
Increased Economic Sanctions
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she supports increased economic sanctions including blacklists of any foreign country or company that does business with Iran’s central bank.
United Nations Secretary General Ban ki-Moon acknowledged receiving correspondence from Saudi Arabia, Iran and the U.S. following the allegations of an assassination plot. Ban, who was speaking today during a visit to the Swiss city of Bern, said he referred the matter to the UN Security Council.
Without some discussions to force Iran to change its policies, “We are on a collision course,” Feinstein said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “If we want to avoid it, we have to take action to avoid it.”
She rejected a call from retired U.S. General Jack Keane, an architect of the troop surge in Iraq, for the U.S. to engage in covert operations to kill members of Iran’s Quds Force. Feinstein said that, while Quds leaders were aware of the plot, there’s no evidence that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest ranking religious and political authority in the country, knew of it.
‘Probably Would Escalate’
“It probably would escalate into a war, and the question is: Do we want to go to war with Iran at this time?” Feinstein said. “My judgment is no. We have our hands full with Iraq, with Afghanistan, with the deteriorating relationship with Pakistan.”
Feinstein said she had initial doubts before learning some of the details learned by investigators.
“There should be no doubt, and the evidence is very strong,” she said. “The FBI believes that the case is both strong and good and will result in a conviction.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected the U.S. allegations. “Each day they try to campaign against Iran,” Ahmadinejad said at a Tehran meeting yesterday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Khamenei warned the U.S. yesterday that any action taken will be met with a “firm” response.
“If U.S. officials are coming up with some ideas, they should know that any inappropriate move, be it political or security related, will be met with the Iranian nation’s firm reaction,” he told supporters in the western Kermanshah province, according to IRNA.
Iran says the Obama administration made up the allegations to divert attention from unemployment, the Occupy Wall Street movement and other economic problems in the U.S.
In an apparent reference to the U.S., Khamenei said today that “enemies” are devising plots to fuel sectarian rifts among Muslims in the Middle East.
“We will not bow in the face of pressure,” Khamenei said in a speech to a gathering of Iranians in the western city of Paveh. Iran mustn’t “step back one inch in the face of enemies’ pressure. Any retreat will embolden them.”
The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran, led by Shiite Muslim clerics, are regional rivals. The U.S. announcement of the alleged plot has led to an escalation of tension between the two Gulf nations, the top producers in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said on Oct. 13 that the “dastardly act reflects the policies of Iran” and that his country will hold Iran “accountable for any action taken.”
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost the 2008 presidential election to Democrat Obama, criticized the administration’s handling of Iran, which McCain yesterday called “a rogue nation.”
The administration’s “engagement with Iran has clearly been a failure,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
McCain said Obama should have done more when students protested on the streets of Tehran in 2009. McCain called for “severe sanctions” and said the U.S. should engage in “covert activity” to undermine the current Iranian government.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican presidential candidate, said Obama is “absolutely clueless” in his dealings with the Iranian government.
“Our goal should be the replacement of the Iranian dictatorship,” Gingrich, from Georgia, said on the CNN program. “We have done nothing of consequence to systematically undermine the regime.”
--With assistance from Phil Mattingly and Kate Anderson Brower in Washington, Ladane Nasseri in Dubai and Jennifer M. Freedman in Bern. Editors: Ann Hughey, Christian Thompson, Heather Langan, Digby Lidstone.
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