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Saudi Arabia refrains from fingering Iran in alleged assassination plot

The US continues to ratchet up pressure on Iran over an alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the US. But Saudi Arabia Wednesday said it was working to determine who was responsible.

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Salehi said it was "illogical and irrational" to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism as it had been the victim over the past three decades. "World public opinion will never accept such an allegation against Iran," he said.

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The speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, called the allegations "silly" and said the U.S. had leveled them " to divert attention from internal and regional problems."

On Tuesday, Iran's permanent representative to the U.N., Mohammad Khazaee, rejected what he said were "fabricated and baseless allegations."

U.S. officials in Washington, however, defended the investigation, noting that they, too, were skeptical when they first learned of it and only became convinced it was real after what one senior official called "a rigorous examination." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The official said investigators still had not reached a firm conclusion on what would have motivated the attack. The official noted that the Quds Force is suspected of involvement in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. service members and of providing assistance to anti-U.S. militant groups in Iraq.

Just how Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil producer and the richest country in the region, will respond to the alleged plot wasn't immediately clear.

Among the ideas said to be under discussion here are a boost in oil production, which would lead to lower prices and a weakening of the Iranian economy, already battered by international sanctions over its nuclear development program; a tougher Saudi stance on Syria, where Iran backs the government, which is dominated by the minority Alawite sect, which is related to Shiite Islam, and Saudi Arabia has been supporting the anti-government protesters, who are primarily from the Sunni majority; and a new drive to further isolate Iran throughout the Middle East.

Saudi-Iranian relations have grown increasingly tense since May 2008, when Shiite militants, backed by Iran, took over Beirut and were reported to have attacked the Saudi embassy and the living quarters of its then-ambassador, Abdulaziz Khoja, a poet and writer who's now the country's information minister. Khoja was forced to flee for his life, first to Christian East Beirut and then to Cyprus, by boat., according to Obeid.

Both sides engage in harsh rhetoric, but they have thus far stopped well short of turning it into action.

(Greg Gordon and William Douglas contributed to this report from Washington.)

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