Shortly after the Justice Department announced that Iranians tried to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, the United States briefed members of the U.N. Security Council and sent the indictment to all 193 nations in the world body.
No reason for the wide distribution of information was given. But the papers were obviously intended to lay the groundwork for future action. The Obama administration wants to do something "tough" short of military action -- perhaps sanctions against Iran's Central Bank. But such measures don't really have the desired worldwide impact unless the Security Council, whose decisions are mandatory, adopts them also.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, briefed the other 14 Security Council members, accompanied by officials from the Justice and State Departments, the FBI, the CIA and Saudi diplomats. One ambassador said the American group released more details than had appeared in the media but that the U.S. strategy was not clear yet against Iran, already under four sets of Council sanctions for its nuclear program.
There was immediate support from Britain, France and Germany but Russia, China and other delegates were cautious. The alleged plot involves a used car salesman in Texas contacting a Mexican drug dealer, who happened to be an informer for the Drug Enforcement Administration. The alleged plan was for the Mexican to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, on orders from Iran's elite Quds Force.
Iran has vehemently denied the accusations and skeptics do not believe the Quds Force could be so amateurish. On the other hand, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the plot was so bizarre "nobody could make that up, right?"
One major problem is the Bush administration's shaky intelligence about Iraq to justify the 2003 invasion. Among major allies in Europe and Latin America in the Security Council at that time, only Britain supported the United States. So despite President Obama's criticism of the invasion, any hint of U.S. (or Israeli) military intervention against Iran is treated with alarm.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ambassador Rice said the attempted plot was a "serious threat to international peace and security."
She mentioned high ranking officers of the Quds force as directing and funding "the conspiracy" and said the plot violated a treaty safeguarding diplomats. She enclosed the indictment and asked it be distributed to the General Assembly. (see text)
Iran's U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, wrote a protest letter to the U.N. secretary-general late on Tuesday, voicing outrage and saying the indictment was politically motivated.
"The Iranian nation seeks a world free from terrorism and considers the current U.S. warmongering and propaganda machine against Iran as a threat not just against itself but to the peace and stability in the Persian Gulf region," he said.
A growing chorus of hawks in the U.S. Congress clamored for the kind of action that could mess up U.S. foreign policy for years.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the New York Times, "There are a lot of steps that we can immediately take that would serve as a wake-up call to the international community."
She said the United States should expel Iran's ambassador to the United Nations and shut down its interest section in Washington. She also suggested taking aim at Russian and Chinese companies and individuals that do business with Iran's energy industry.
Ros-Lehtinen is sponsoring legislation in the House that would make it harder for Mr. Obama --- or any American president -- to waive sanctions passed by Congress on the grounds that the measures would damage American national interests.
Still, there has been no trial or plea bargain of the Texan, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen. Also charged was Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Quds Force, believed to be at large in Iran.
Iran represents revolutionary Shiites whereas Saudi Arabia has been regarded as a leader of moderate Sunnis. What the two countries have in common, in addition to oil, is the oppression of women. And Saudi Arabia wins on that one.
Follow Evelyn Leopold on Twitter: www.twitter.com/evjournalist