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US officials discuss Iran plot response

By Alan Bjerga
Bloomberg News / October 17, 2011

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WASHINGTON - Military force should not be ruled out as a response to an Iranian assassination plot on US soil, Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said yesterday.

“I don’t think you should take it off the table,’’ the Michigan Republican said on ABC’s “This Week.’’ Rogers said other options would include rallying the international community against Iran or taking action against Iranian operatives in Iraq.

In a separate interview yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Intelligence Committee, opposed a proposal by Jack Keane, a retired general and an architect of the troop surge in Iraq, that the United States engage in covert operations to kill members of Iran’s Quds Force.

US officials are considering what action to take after the Justice Department’s Oct. 11 accusation that Iran sponsored a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. The conspiracy involved the Quds, a secret Iranian military unit, and a citizen of the Islamic Republic with a US passport, officials said.

President Obama said last 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 kill Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir and attack Saudi installations in the United States. Targets included “foreign government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with another country,’’ US authorities said in a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan.

Feinstein said she supports increased economic sanctions against Iran, especially against Iran’s Central Bank, with blacklists of any foreign country or company that does business with the Central Bank.

Without some discussions to force Iran to change its policies, “we are on a collision course,’’ she said on “Fox News Sunday.’’ “If we want to avoid it, we have to take action to avoid it.’’

In opposing a military action against the Quds Force, Feinstein said that, while Quds leaders were aware of the plot, there is no evidence that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the highest ranking religious and political authority in the country, knew of it.

“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.’’

Khamenei warned the United States yesterday that any measures taken against Tehran over the accusations would elicit a “resolute’’ response.

Khamenei’s comments may reflect Iranian concerns that Washington would use the Jubeir case to ratchet up sanctions and recruit international allies to try to further isolate Tehran.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been blunt in saying the United States would use the allegations as leverage with other countries that have been reluctant to apply harsh sanctions or penalties against Iran.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rejected the US allegations in a Tehran meeting yesterday.

“Each day they try to campaign against Iran,’’ Ahmadinejad said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. Iran has asserted that the Obama administration made up the allegations to divert attention from unemployment, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other economic problems.