The Cable

Kirk: Time to collapse the central bank of Iran

The Obama administration must take stronger steps than just sanctioning five Iranian individuals, as it announced today, in response to the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi envoy in Washington, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told The Cable.

"That's just charging the individuals involved," Kirk said in a Tuesday afternoon interview, emphasizing that the Iranian government should be held responsible for the plot directly. "What the administration should do is prepare to move against Bank Markazi [Iran's Central Bank] in response to the bomb plot."

Kirk took to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday to call on the Federal Reserve and the EU Central Bank to ban all transactions with Iran's central bank, which Kirk said would have the effect of crippling the value of Iran's currency.

"Their currency would become like North Korea's currency," Kirk said, arguing that the move would constitute a proportional and appropriate response to the Iranian government's involvement in the plot.

The administration did not brief Congress before announcing the plot in a press conference earlier today, but Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen is set to brief members of the Banking Committee tomorrow in private and then in public on Thursday.

Members will be pressing Cohen on what further steps will be taken to punish Iran for the plot in addition to what was announced today. By tomorrow, senators will put forward several more requests for specific actions against Iran, Kirk said.

"We're looking at a range of policies, but no military action, because the plot was foiled," Kirk said. "The level of anger in Congress tonight is only a fraction of what it will be tomorrow morning."

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) also called for additional measures against Iran in a speech on the Senate floor today. "We need to heighten the sanctions on Iran and make it clear that this type of action will not be countenanced," he said.

In August, more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama, written by Kirk and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated, "The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran's financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran. There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for the imposition of sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke vaguely about possible future measures against Iran in response to the plot in a short comment onTuesday afternoon.

"We will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms, must be ended," she said.  "And other areas where we can cooperate more closely in order to send a strong message to Iran and other actions to isolate it from the international community will also be considered."

But Clinton got a bit more specific about the State Department's behind the scenes outreach regarding the plot in a Tuesday interview with the AP.

"We are actively engaged in a very concerted diplomatic outreach to many capitals, to the U.N. in New York, to not only to explain what happened so we can try to pre-empt any efforts by Iran to be successful in what would be their denial and their efforts to try to deflect responsibility but so that we also enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat" from Iran, Clinton said.

UPDATE: Late Tuesday evening, the State Department issued a new worldwide travel alert in response to the assassination plot. 

"The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. actions following the disruption of a plot, linked to Iran, to commit a significant terrorist act in the United States," it stated. "The U.S. government assesses that this Iranian-backed plan to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian Government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States."

The Cable

Treasury announces new sanctions on Iranian officials

The Treasury Department just announced new sanctions on Iranian officials who they allege were connected to the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by hiring what they thought were Mexican cartel members to bomb a restaurant.

Four of the Iranians named in the new sanctions are senior officials in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds force (IRGC-QF), which is implicated in the complaint filed today by Justice Department officials that explained the plot. The fifth Iranian sanctioned was Manssor Arbabsiar, the naturalized U.S. citizen alleged to be responsible for arranging the assassination plot on behalf of the Quds force who was arrested on Sept. 29 and has confessed while in U.S. custody.

Treasury announced the new sanctions in a press release on Tuesday afternoon. The action makes it illegal for Americans to do business with and freezes the U.S.-based assets of IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani, Hamed Abdollahi, a senior IRGC-QF official who allegedly coordinated aspects of the plot, Abdul Reza Shahlai, an IRGC-QF official who allegedly coordinated the operation; and Ali Gholam Shakuri, an IRGC-QF official and deputy to Shahlai, who allegedly met with Arbabsiar several times to discuss this assassination and other plots.

"Iran once again has used the Quds Force and the international financial system to pursue an act of international terrorism, this time aimed against a Saudi diplomat," said David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. "The financial transactions at the heart of this plot lay bare the risk that banks and other institutions face in doing business with Iran."

Further actions are expected to be announced by other administration agencies soon.

Here are the allegations Treasury made as justifications for the new sanctions designations:

Manssor Arbabsiar

Arbabsiar met on a number of occasions with senior IRGC-QF officials regarding this plot and acted on behalf of senior Qods Force officials - including his cousin Abdul Reza Shahlai and Shahlai's deputy Gholam Shakuri - to execute the plot. During one such meeting, a $100,000 payment for the murder of the Saudi ambassador was approved by the IRGC-QF. After this meeting, Arbabsiar arranged for approximately $100,000 to be sent from a non-Iranian foreign bank to the United States, to the account of the person he recruited to carry out the assassination. 

Qasem Soleimani

As IRGC-QF Commander, Qasem Soleimani oversees the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in this plot. Soleimani was previously designated by the Treasury Department under E.O. 13382 based on his relationship to the IRGC. He was also designated in May 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13572, which targets human rights abuses in Syria, for his role as the Commander of the IRGC-QF, the primary conduit for Iran's support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

Hamed Abdollahi

Abdollahi is also a senior IRGC-QF officer who coordinated aspects of this operation. Abdollahi oversees other Qods Force officials - including Shahlai - who were responsible for coordinating and planning this operation.

Abdul Reza Shahlai

Shahlai is an IRGC-QF official who coordinated the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, while he was in the United States and to carry out follow-on attacks against other countries' interests inside the United States and in another country. Shahlai worked through his cousin, Manssor Arbabsiar, who was named in the criminal complaint for conspiring to bring the IRGC-QF's plot to fruition. Shahlai approved financial allotments to Arbabsiar to help recruit other individuals for the plot, approving $5 million dollars as payment for all of the operations discussed.