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Assassination plot: US seeks to label Iran an international outlaw

As US diplomats show allies evidence that Iran was behind an assassination plot, they are also laying the groundwork for pursuing Iran as an international outlaw that violated a treaty.

By Washington / October 13, 2011

President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak take part in a joint news conference, Thursday, in the East Room of White House in Washington. Obama said today, Iran’s 'dangerous and reckless behavior' is outside all norms of international conduct.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Washington

The Obama administration is building support for its case against Iran over the alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington, and appears to be laying the groundwork for pursuing Iran in either the UN Security Council or even the International Court of Justice.

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President Obama, appearing at a press conference Thursday with visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, said Iran’s “dangerous and reckless behavior” is outside all norms of international conduct, and “there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others in the State Department are taking evidence they say supports punishing Iran to those whom Secretary Clinton calls “our friends and partners in the international community.”

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has met with numerous delegation heads at the UN, and some diplomats have said on the condition of anonymity that the evidence Ambassador Rice presented is “convincing.”

The administration’s goal is to build international support for its bid to isolate Iran over the terror plot.

But the Obama administration also believes the planned assassination violated international law against targeting diplomats – including a treaty that lists Iran among its signatories.

By labeling the Iranian regime an international outlaw, the administration is thus drumming up support for pursuing Iran in the Security Council or the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the UN’s principal court of law.

On Wednesday Clinton zeroed in on the fact that Iran is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons. The treaty protecting diplomats dates from 1973 and was signed by Iran in 1978.

Referring to the alleged assassination plot, Clinton said that “this kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system,” and that as a result “Iran must be held accountable.”

That “accountability” could be sought through the Security Council, where either the US or Saudi Arabia – whose diplomat was allegedly targeted – could seek redress against Iran.

The case of the Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, is an example of this option. Libya refused to acknowledge any role in the 1988 attack, so the US took the case to the Security Council. The case dragged on for years, but Western powers did manage to win sanctions against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in the early 1990s as pressure to turn over the Lockerbie bombers.

Those sanctions were finally lifted in 2003 as part of a deal with Libya to compensate the families of the 270 victims of the bombing.

Another international option would be to seek a judgment from the court in The Hague. Some international judicial scholars say the court would first have to determine if the treaty was even violated, since the alleged plot did not advance past the planning stages (Although the US claims to have proof of money transfers and international communications advancing the plot’s execution).

The administration may not have an easy road ahead of it in making the case to punish Iran, some international legal experts say. For one thing, the case involves a plot and not an actual attack; for another, the alleged plan comes off to many foreigners as far-fetched and at best the product of someone’s Hollywood-fed imagination. (A bombing in a Washington restaurant, to be followed by attacks on the Israeli and Saudi embassies?)

But perhaps the biggest impediment the US faces in winning Security Council action against Iran, some foreign diplomats say, is the memory of the US case against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in which “evidence” was presented in the Security Council “proving” the existence of WMDs in Iraq.

The US used that evidence to try to win council support for a military intervention in Iraq – a war the US eventually undertook without UN blessings – but the “evidence” of WMDs turned out to be baseless.

Also Thursday, Treasury officials suggested the US could slap new sanctions on Iran’s central bank, as is being demanded by several US senators.

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