UPDATE #3: An Iranian-American charged with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States pleaded not guilty Monday to charges including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to murder a foreign official.
The Associated Press reports that Manssor Arbabsiar, a U.S. citizen who also holds an Iranian passport, entered the plea in a federal courtroom in New York. Arbabsiar's next court appearance is set for Dec. 21, although no trial date has yet been set.
The five-charge indictment against Arbabsiar matches the charges contained in an Oct. 11 criminal complaint, which the AP says claims the defendant had previously admitted to his role in the assassination plot.
Arbabsiar's alleged co-conspirator has not yet been arrested.
UPDATE #2 Monday, Oct. 17: Iran's supreme leader has called allegations that his country plotted to blow up a Washington, D.C. restaurant "meaningless and absurd," but with international pressure mounting, the country's foreign ministry on Monday said it will look into the charges nonetheless.
"We are prepared to consider any issue, even if it is falsely created, with patience. We have asked the Unites States to provide us with the relevant information regarding this scenario," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the Islamic Republic News Agency, according to CNN.
Iran is also demanding consular access to the main suspect in the case, 56-year-old Manssor Arbabsiar, who was arrested last week and is being held in the United States. A senior U.S. official told CNN the United States will grant the request if Iran lodges it formally.
Strangely, however, Iran has denied two U.S. State Department officials' assertion that U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice met with Iran's UN representative last week. Iranian officials are holding to their line that the United States fabricated the entire plot to sow discord between their nation and Saudi Arabia. On Sunday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei talked tough, the Washington Post reports. saying, "If U.S. officials have some delusions, (they must) know that any unsuitable act, whether political or security, will meet a resolute response from the Iranian nation."
Stateside, few believe the U.S. government concoted the alleged plot from thin air. But some commentators have argued that it jumped to conclusions by immediately pinning it on the Iranian government. Separately, legal blogger Marcy Wheeler wrote in The Atlantic on Monday that there appear to be some troubling holes in the government's case against Arbabsiar. For one, the conversations in which he allegedly first suggested using explosives to target the Saudi ambassador seem not to have been recorded. And the evidence tying the plot to Iran's secretive Quds force isn't fully convincing, Wheeler argues.
UPDATE #1 Wednesday, Oct. 12: The Obama administration plans to leverage charges that Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia's U.S. ambassador on American soil to wage a "new global campaign to isolate the Islamic republic," the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Administration officials plan to lobby for new international sanctions against Iran, as well as for individual nations to expand their own existing penalties. "This really, in the minds of many diplomats and government officials, crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the AP in an interview, adding that she and President Obama hope to "enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat" from Iran.
It appears as though the White House won't have much trouble rallying their base. The BBC reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron's office released a statement promising to "support measures to hold Iran accountable for its actions."
The E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, meanwhile, expressed "grave concern" about the plot, adding via a spokeswoman: "Should the facts be confirmed, this would constitute a major breach of international law with serious international implications."
At home, a top Republican in the House suggested that the United States should not rule out any action, including a military response, in the wake of the alleged terror plot. In an interview with CNN, House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King called the alleged scheme an "act of war" five times during a five-minute interview.
"We should not be ... automatically saying we're not going to have military action," King said Tuesday night, adding: "Everything should be left on the table when you are talking about a potential attack (in) the United States, an act of war."
For its part, Iran is denying any involvement in the plot. "These are cheap claims" Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, said, according to the AP. "By giving it a wide media coverage, it was evident that they are trying to cover up their own problems. ... We have normal relations with the Saudis. There is no reason for Iran to carry out such childish acts."
POSTED Tuesday, Oct. 11: Seriously? What is this, 24?
U.S. officials said Tuesday that they have thwarted an elaborate terrorist plot backed by elements of the Iranian government to kill Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, on American soil. The men behind the assassination attempt had attempted to hire a Mexico drug cartel to help execute the plan, according to the government.
The Washington Post reports that two men, Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized American citizen who also holds and Iranian passport, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, were charged in the plot.
Both are accused of conspiracy to murder a foreign official and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, among other charges. Arbabsiar was arrested in New York on Sept, 29; Shakuri is still at large in Iran.
Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are historic rivals.
"The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign Ambassador on U.S. soil with explosives," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "Through the diligent and coordinated efforts of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, we were able to disrupt this plot before anyone was harmed."
The plan was uncovered when Arbabsiar tried to meet with members of a Mexican drug cartel to arrange the ambassador’s killing. Instead, Arbabsiar met in Mexico with a DEA informant whom he thought was a cartel member, and negotiated a $1.5 million price for the assassination.
"It reads like pages from a Hollywood script," said FBI Director Robert Mueller, but "the impact would have been very real."
The United States has listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984. The government in Tehran has long denied accusations that it backs terrorism.