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State Department in diplomatic full court press against Iran

Top officials in the State Department are going to extensive lengths to coordinate international pressure on Iran in the wake of the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, although it remains unclear exactly what the Obama administration’s next retaliatory steps might be. Secretary of State Hillary ...

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Getty Images
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Top officials in the State Department are going to extensive lengths to coordinate international pressure on Iran in the wake of the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, although it remains unclear exactly what the Obama administration's next retaliatory steps might be.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Bill Burns have been calling leaders around the world to discuss the indictment against a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen and an Iranian member of the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps al-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), which alleges that they hatched an elaborate plan to kill Jubeir by bombing a restaurant in Washington, possibly Café Milano in Georgetown.

Top officials in the State Department are going to extensive lengths to coordinate international pressure on Iran in the wake of the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, although it remains unclear exactly what the Obama administration’s next retaliatory steps might be.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Bill Burns have been calling leaders around the world to discuss the indictment against a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen and an Iranian member of the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps al-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), which alleges that they hatched an elaborate plan to kill Jubeir by bombing a restaurant in Washington, possibly Café Milano in Georgetown.

Clinton has personally spoken with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal al-Saud, her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and will be making several more calls today. Burns hosted a meeting of dozens of foreign diplomats this morning at the State Department on the plot, urging foreign ambassadors to convey a message back to their capitals that the United States is seeking more international pressure and condemnation of Iran.

Clinton and Burns met Wednesday morning with the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran through their embassy there because the U.S. and Iran have no formal diplomatic relations. The meeting was previously scheduled, but the focus was switched to discuss the bomb plot.

The State Department also sent a message to all U.S. ambassadors and chiefs of mission around the world directing them to meet with officials in their host countries to brief them on the situation and encourage them to aid the United States in increasing pressure on the Iranian government.

The administration sent briefers to talk to congressional staffers in a classified setting today, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will testify tomorrow in an open hearing that is now expected to focus on the plot.

The State Department is also offering to send briefing teams to any embassy in Washington that wants more detailed information about the plot.

In New York, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is holding individual meetings will all 14 other countries on the U.N. Security Council on the issue today and tomorrow.

"We are looking for countries to join us in increasing the political and the economic pressure on Iran," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today’s briefing. "We believe that all countries should look hard at how they can tighten sanctions, how they can enforce sanctions and whether sanctions are well-enforced to the limits of their own national law."

Iran’s permanent representative to the U.N. Mohammad Khazaee sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon denying any role in the plot and stating that, "Iran has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."

The State Department has made no decisions on whether to seek formal U.N. action against Iran, such as a Security Council resolution or presidential statement, Nuland said, and she wouldn’t comment on Sen. Mark Kirk‘s (R-IL) demand that the administration sanction the Central Bank of Iran, an idea supported by over 90 senators.

On Tuesday, Treasury announced sanctions on four IRGC-QF officials who it alleges were involved in the plot and today, announced sanctions on the Iranian commercial airline Mahan Air.

Nuland said the administration doesn’t know why Iran decided to attempt such an attack, but she dismissed the notion that the plot was out of character for the Iranian government.

"You know, Iran has a long history of using cut-outs. It also has some clumsy efforts in its past. I can’t speak to what they were thinking when they planned this, but our concern is that it appears to be an escalation in tactics, and a dangerous one," she said.

Clinton spoke about the plot on Wednesday morning during remarks at the Center for American Progress.

"This plot, very fortunately disrupted by the excellent work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, was a flagrant violation of international and U.S. law, and a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government’s long-standing use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism…. This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system," she said.

"Iran must be held accountable for its actions….We will work closely with our international partners to increase Iran’s isolation and the pressure on its government, and we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security."

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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