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How will US retaliate against Iran for alleged assassination plot?

Military reprisal is justified, some analysts say. But initially the US is likely to take a diplomatic course, trying to further isolate Iran after its alleged role in an assassination plot on US soil.

By Staff writer / October 11, 2011

Attorney General Eric Holder, left, accompanied by FBI Director Robert Mueller, speaks at a news conference in Washington Tuesday. Holder announced that two individuals have been charged in New York for their alleged participation in a plot directed by elements of the Iranian government to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States with explosives while the ambassador was in the United States.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

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Washington

Revelations Tuesday of an alleged Iranian-directed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on American soil will plunge already-confrontational US-Iran relations to new depths.

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The initial US response is likely to be to reinforce efforts to isolate Iran in global affairs.

The US accusations portray an Iran willing to carry out by proxy an attack not only on US territory but in the heart of Washington, and they are likely to move to center stage international efforts at corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which have sat in the wings for months.

The alleged plot is enough to justify some form of retaliatory military action by the United States, say some national security experts. Others say the US is likely to limit itself to reinforced diplomatic efforts against Iran while the legal case against two accused plotters makes its way through the American justice system.

“At a minimum, this is something that will be used in diplomatic channels to further US efforts to isolate Iran,” says Matthew Levitt, director of the intelligence and counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I don’t know if the administration will want to do much more than that while this remains at the level of allegations.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the State Department Tuesday afternoon that the US is already consulting with allies and partners in the international community on “how we can send a very strong message that this kind of action that violates international norms” will not be tolerated.

The US plans to take up the plot at the United Nations Security Council, according to one US official. That course of action suggests not only that the Obama administration assigns a high level of seriousness to the plot and its ramifications, but also that the US will favor a diplomatic response, at least initially.

The allegations, spelled out by US Attorney General Eric Holder at a Washington press conference Tuesday, point the finger at officials in Iran’s Al Quds Force, which US and Western intelligence experts consider to be the militant wing of the Iranian military. By tying the plot to “factions of the Iranian government,” Mr. Holder underscored the US position that the Iranian regime was behind the plan.

Iran will be held “accountable,” Holder said, before specifying that retaliatory actions would be announced shortly by the White House, State Department, and Treasury.

The alleged plot – which Justice Department officials claim never got past early planning stages, based on telephone and informant conversations –envisioned planting a bomb in a favorite Washington restaurant of Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. Other ideas allegedly discussed included attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington.

Representatives of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly reacted to the allegations, calling them “a frabrication.”

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