The government of Iran on Thursday escalated its rebuttal of American criminal charges that it was behind a murder conspiracy in Washington, calling the claims that Iranian agents had plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador with the help of a Mexican drug gang so ludicrous that even politicians and press in the United States were expressing skepticism about such a scheme.
The latest rejoinder added to the response of Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his subordinates, who said on Wednesday that the suspected plot was concocted in Washington to distract Americans from their own traumatic economic problems, highlighted by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
At the same time, however, Saudi Arabia, which is deeply suspicious of Iran, suggested that it accepted the American accusations as fact, and Britain said it was taking the accusations seriously. The Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, told reporters at a news conference in Vienna that “this dastardly act reflects the policies of Iran.” The Saudi government has not yet decided whether to withdraw its ambassador from Tehran in protest, he said.
In London, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, told the House of Commons that the suspected plot “would appear to constitute a major escalation in Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism outside its borders,” British news agencies reported. He added that the British government was “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 E.U. and Saudi Arabia.”
The charges, announced in Washington on Tuesday by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., asserted that officials in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had conspired to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States by hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million. The main suspects were identified as Mansour J. Arbabsiar, a naturalized American citizen of Iranian descent from Corpus Christi, Tex., who has been taken into custody, and Gholam Shakuri, described by the Justice Department as a member of the Quds Force, who is at large and believed to be in Iran.
Mr. Holder said American investigators believed that high-level officials in the Iranian government “were responsible for this plot.”
President Obama, making his first public comments on the accusations Thursday, did not go quite as far. But at a news conference with the visiting president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, in Washington, Mr. Obama said in response to a question about Iran: “We believe that even if at the highest levels there was not detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability.”
On Wednesday, Obama administration officials expended considerable effort trying to counter a wave of puzzlement and skepticism from outside experts on Iran and from some foreign leaders about the logic of such a plot. Some Iran experts said it made little sense that the Quds Force, a highly skilled organization, would plot an attack in such a risky and amateurish way.
Seizing on this theme, Iran’s state-run media was dominated on Thursday by rejections of the American charges. Press TV, an English-language news web site controlled by the Iranian government, quoted the foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, calling the charges part of a “new propaganda campaign.” The official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ali Ahani, the deputy foreign minister, saying that “the absurd and conspiratorial scenario was made so immaturely that even political circles and media of the U.S. and its allies were suspicious about it.”
He called the charges an attempt to “weaken Iran’s increasingly strengthening position in the region.”
On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry of Iran complained angrily to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which has monitored United States interests in Iran since diplomatic relations were severed in 1980 . The ministry said it summoned the Swiss ambassador to convey its outrage over the American charges in person and to warn “against the repetition of such politically motivated allegations.”
Ayatollah Khamenei predicted what he called the demise of American capitalism and corporate favoritism. Press TV quoted the ayatollah saying in a speech that “the corrupted capitalist system shows no mercy to any nation, including the American people.”
The ayatollah also commended the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, Washington and other American cities, calling them a consequence of “the prevalence of top-level corruption, poverty and social inequality in America.”