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Kirk: Time to collapse the central bank of Iran

The Obama administration must take stronger steps than just sanctioning five Iranian individuals, as it announced today, in response to the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi envoy in Washington, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told The Cable. "That’s just charging the individuals involved," Kirk said in a Tuesday afternoon interview, emphasizing that the Iranian government ...

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The Obama administration must take stronger steps than just sanctioning five Iranian individuals, as it announced today, in response to the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi envoy in Washington, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told The Cable.

"That’s just charging the individuals involved," Kirk said in a Tuesday afternoon interview, emphasizing that the Iranian government should be held responsible for the plot directly. "What the administration should do is prepare to move against Bank Markazi [Iran’s Central Bank] in response to the bomb plot."

Kirk took to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday to call on the Federal Reserve and the EU Central Bank to ban all transactions with Iran’s central bank, which Kirk said would have the effect of crippling the value of Iran’s currency.

"Their currency would become like North Korea’s currency," Kirk said, arguing that the move would constitute a proportional and appropriate response to the Iranian government’s involvement in the plot.

The administration did not brief Congress before announcing the plot in a press conference earlier today, but Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen is set to brief members of the Banking Committee tomorrow in private and then in public on Thursday.

Members will be pressing Cohen on what further steps will be taken to punish Iran for the plot in addition to what was announced today. By tomorrow, senators will put forward several more requests for specific actions against Iran, Kirk said.

"We’re looking at a range of policies, but no military action, because the plot was foiled," Kirk said. "The level of anger in Congress tonight is only a fraction of what it will be tomorrow morning."

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) also called for additional measures against Iran in a speech on the Senate floor today. "We need to heighten the sanctions on Iran and make it clear that this type of action will not be countenanced," he said.

In August, more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama, written by Kirk and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated, "The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran’s financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran. There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for the imposition of sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke vaguely about possible future measures against Iran in response to the plot in a short comment onTuesday afternoon.

"We will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms, must be ended," she said.  "And other areas where we can cooperate more closely in order to send a strong message to Iran and other actions to isolate it from the international community will also be considered."

But Clinton got a bit more specific about the State Department’s behind the scenes outreach regarding the plot in a Tuesday interview with the AP.

"We are actively engaged in a very concerted diplomatic outreach to many capitals, to the U.N. in New York, to not only to explain what happened so we can try to pre-empt any efforts by Iran to be successful in what would be their denial and their efforts to try to deflect responsibility but so that we also enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat" from Iran, Clinton said.

UPDATE: Late Tuesday evening, the State Department issued a new worldwide travel alert in response to the assassination plot. 

"The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. actions following the disruption of a plot, linked to Iran, to commit a significant terrorist act in the United States," it stated. "The U.S. government assesses that this Iranian-backed plan to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian Government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States."

The Obama administration must take stronger steps than just sanctioning five Iranian individuals, as it announced today, in response to the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi envoy in Washington, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told The Cable.

"That’s just charging the individuals involved," Kirk said in a Tuesday afternoon interview, emphasizing that the Iranian government should be held responsible for the plot directly. "What the administration should do is prepare to move against Bank Markazi [Iran’s Central Bank] in response to the bomb plot."

Kirk took to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday to call on the Federal Reserve and the EU Central Bank to ban all transactions with Iran’s central bank, which Kirk said would have the effect of crippling the value of Iran’s currency.

"Their currency would become like North Korea’s currency," Kirk said, arguing that the move would constitute a proportional and appropriate response to the Iranian government’s involvement in the plot.

The administration did not brief Congress before announcing the plot in a press conference earlier today, but Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen is set to brief members of the Banking Committee tomorrow in private and then in public on Thursday.

Members will be pressing Cohen on what further steps will be taken to punish Iran for the plot in addition to what was announced today. By tomorrow, senators will put forward several more requests for specific actions against Iran, Kirk said.

"We’re looking at a range of policies, but no military action, because the plot was foiled," Kirk said. "The level of anger in Congress tonight is only a fraction of what it will be tomorrow morning."

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) also called for additional measures against Iran in a speech on the Senate floor today. "We need to heighten the sanctions on Iran and make it clear that this type of action will not be countenanced," he said.

In August, more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama, written by Kirk and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated, "The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran’s financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran. There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for the imposition of sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke vaguely about possible future measures against Iran in response to the plot in a short comment onTuesday afternoon.

"We will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms, must be ended," she said.  "And other areas where we can cooperate more closely in order to send a strong message to Iran and other actions to isolate it from the international community will also be considered."

But Clinton got a bit more specific about the State Department’s behind the scenes outreach regarding the plot in a Tuesday interview with the AP.

"We are actively engaged in a very concerted diplomatic outreach to many capitals, to the U.N. in New York, to not only to explain what happened so we can try to pre-empt any efforts by Iran to be successful in what would be their denial and their efforts to try to deflect responsibility but so that we also enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat" from Iran, Clinton said.

UPDATE: Late Tuesday evening, the State Department issued a new worldwide travel alert in response to the assassination plot. 

"The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. actions following the disruption of a plot, linked to Iran, to commit a significant terrorist act in the United States," it stated. "The U.S. government assesses that this Iranian-backed plan to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian Government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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