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World baffled by crude Iranian plot

The Obama administration on Wednesday sought to reconcile what it said was solid evidence of an Iranian plot to murder Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States with a wave of puzzlement and skepticism from some foreign leaders and outside experts.

world Updated: Oct 14, 2011 00:22 IST

The Obama administration on Wednesday sought to reconcile what it said was solid evidence of an Iranian plot to murder Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States with a wave of puzzlement and skepticism from some foreign leaders and outside experts.

Senior American officials themselves were struggling to explain why the Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, would orchestrate such a risky attack in so amateurish a manner.

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, would not go further than to say the plot "clearly involved senior levels of the Quds Force." But other American officials, armed with evidence such as bank transfers and intercepted telephone calls and with knowledge of how the covert unit operated in the past, said they believed that Iran's senior leaders were likely complicit in the plot.

"It would be our assessment that this kind of operation would have been discussed at the highest levels of the regime," said a senior American official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the government's analysis.

American officials offered no specific evidence linking the plot to Iran's most senior leaders. But they said it was inconceivable in Iran's hierarchy that the leader of the shadowy Quds Force, Maj Gen Qassim Suleimani, was not directly involved, and that the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was not aware of such a plan.

Iran's leaders marshaled a furious formal rejection Wednesday of the American accusations, calling the case a cynical fabrication meant to vilify Iran and distract Americans from their severe economic problems.

United States officials said they were exploring several theories why the Quds Force, which supplies and trains insurgents around the world, would plot an attack in Washington against a close adviser to the Saudi king. The officials said the plot might indicate a shift to a more combative Iranian foreign policy toward Saudi Arabia and the United States.