WASHINGTON -- The United States has dismissed as untruthful Iranian claims that no direct contacts have taken place between the U.S. and Iran over allegations concerning a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, a claim that Tehran denies.
On October 14, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the announcement she first made on October 13.
"I will again confirm that we did meet with the Iranians," she said. "It was two days ago. They know that very well and any efforts on their part to deny it speaks, again, to how truthful they are about any of these sorts of matters."
Also, U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican-Florida), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a hearing on Iran that the contact took place at the United Nations in New York.
Earlier, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Alireza Miryousefi, an official in charge of the media at Iran's UN mission, as saying there had been "no direct contact" between the two countries.
Certainly, Washington and Tehran have much to discuss about the alleged assassination plot.
While Nuland did not comment on what form the alleged contact came in, she said the United States had made its position clear:
U.S. President Barack Obama has warned Iran.
"I can say that the substance [of the meeting], on our side, was to make absolutely clear that we consider this behavior [the alleged plot] a violation of U.S. law, a violation of international law, and unacceptable, and that we intend to hold them to account," she said.
'Like Something From A Movie'
Speaking publicly about the alleged plot for the first time on October 13, U.S. President Barack Obama called it part of a "pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior" by Tehran.
He also promised to seek the "toughest sanctions" against the Islamic republic and charged that officials at the "highest levels" of the Iranian government must answer for their actions.
Tehran's response so far has been to ridicule Washington over the charges, saying they were deliberately fabricated to damage Iran's image.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of Europe and America affairs, Ali Ahani, said on October 13 that "this pathetic and [conspiratorial] scenario is so clumsy that even American media and political circles are looking at it with doubt."
Reuters reports that officials inside the U.S. government who have studied the case acknowledge that the checkered background and indiscreet behavior of the key suspect initially generated skepticism as to the plot's authenticity.
The State Department's Nuland, however, has said that while the case at first seemed "like something out of a movie," the plot becomes credible with "more detail on what we knew and when we knew it and how we knew it."
Manssor Arbabsiar in a courtroom sketch during an appearance in a Manhattan courtroom in New York.
The U.S. government has dispatched interagency teams to various countries, including Russia, China, and Turkey, to provide more details about the plot.
Following The Evidence
The suspect, Manssor Arbabsiar, was arrested after contracting a man he believed to represent a Mexican drug cartel to arrange for the killing of Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. But the alleged plot was foiled when the gangster turned out to be a secret U.S. government informant.
Neighbors and friends say that Arbabsiar -- a naturalized U.S. citizen -- has a history of scatter-brained behavior, including a string of failed businesses.
One of his former business partners, David Tomscha, told the press on October 13 that if U.S. officials believed they had arrested a top-class secret agent, they were mistaken. "If they were looking for 007, they got Mr. Bean," Tomscha said.
But Washington says Arbabsiar, who kept his Iranian passport, was in earnest and there is strong evidence he was backed by Iran's elite Quds Force. They say before his arrest he facilitated two transfers totaling nearly $100,000 from an overseas bank to the United States as down payment for the planned assassination.
U.S. officials also say they have evidence that one of Arbabsiar's cousins -- Abdul Reza Shahlai, a high-ranking Quds Force official -- was involved in the alleged pot and has previously been involved in anti-U.S. operations.
As Washington says it now has had direct contact over the case with Tehran. The contact could offer some hope that the biggest mystery in the affair may one day become a bit clearer.
That is, how high did knowledge, or approval, of Arbabsiar's work go within the Iranian regime?
So far, Washington is leaving that question open.
Cracking Down On Iran's Bank
Meanwhile, a chorus of U.S. lawmakers are calling on the administration to expand its sanctions program against Tehran, and in particular, take more action to target Iran's Central Bank (CBI).
David Cohen, the U.S. undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on October 14 that the administration was now working with its allies toward potential new sanctions against the bank.
"We are engaged in an effort to develop the multilateral support that would be, I think, critically important in having an action against the CBI really be effective," Cohen said.
Successive U.S. administrations have been unable to convince their partners, including Europeans, to adopt multilateral sanctions against the bank.
The bank's core interests include financing Iran's oil and other energy projects, and expanded sanctions could force companies to choose between doing business with the bank or with the United States.
with agency reports