The Cable

More actions against Iran coming soon in response to terror plot

The White House, State Department, and Treasury Department are all involved in developing new measures against the Iranian government that are to be announced "within hours," in response to a Iranian government-linked plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Attorney General Eric Holder led a press conference on Tuesday to unveil the allegations against an Iranian-American and a member of Iran's Quds force, a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, regarding an elaborate plot to work with Mexican drug cartels to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir by bombing a restaurant in Washington. The bombing was alleged to be the first of a host of violent attacks inside the United States.

"The complaint alleges that this conspiracy was conceived, was sponsored and was directed from Iran and constitutes a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law, including a convention that explicitly protects diplomats from being harmed," Holder said. "The United States is committed to holding Iran responsible for its actions."

Calling it an "international murder for hire scheme," that was  "directed by factions of the Iranian government," Holder took reporters through a sting operation that began in May when Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, contacted an informant working on behalf of the Drug Enforcement Agency with a plan to kidnap the ambassador.

In subsequent discussions with the undercover agent, Arbabsiar updated the plot to include the assassination of the ambassador as the first of what U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara described as " a series of lethal attacks cooked up by the defendants and their cohorts in Iran."

Arbabsiar was allegedly working with his cousin, Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Quds force, and other Iranian agents. According to the complaint, filed today in the Southern District of New York, Shakuri aided Arbabsiar in sending $100,000 to a U.S. bank account as a down payment for the assassination.

Arbasiar and Shakuri were charged on Tuesday with conspiracy to murder a foreign official; conspiracy to engage in foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire; conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives); and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism transcending national boundaries.  Arbabsiar is also charged with an additional count of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

Arbabsiar was arrested in New York on Sept. 29 after he was denied entry into Mexico. He had been in Iran finalizing details of the plot. Holder said the Mexican government had aided in the months-long investigation. He also said that Arbabsiar had confessed in custody and was cooperating with investigators.

"This case illustrates that we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant," said FBI Director Robert Mueller. "Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would have been very real and many lives would have been lost."

"President Obama was first briefed on this issue in June and directed the administration to provide all necessary support to this investigation," Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, said in a statement.

"The disruption of this plot is a significant achievement by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the president is enormously grateful for their exceptional work in this instance and countless others."

The Cable

Palestinian membership in UNESCO is just the tip of the iceberg

The Obama administration is scrambling right now to find a way around the fact that existing U.S. law could force the United States to stop participating in the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO if the Palestinians are given member state status, setting a precedent that could repeat itself in a host of other U.N. organizations.

The administration is contending with a 1994 law (P.L. 103-236, Title IV), which would bar U.S. contributions "to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood."

Another law (P.L. 101-246, Title IV), from 1990, states that, "No funds authorized to be appropriated by this act or any other act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states."

The Palestinians cleared a hurdle this week when the UNESCO executive board approved their bid to join the organization, sending the matter to a vote by UNESCO's 193-nation General Conference. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized UNESCO on Wednesday for taking up the issue.

"I think that that is a very odd procedure indeed and would urge the governing body of UNESCO to think again before proceeding with that vote," Clinton told reporters in the Dominican Republic.

She acknowledged the "strong legislative prohibition that prevents the United States from funding organizations that jump the gun, so to speak, in recognizing entities before they are fully ready for such recognition."

The U.S. has not yet paid their bills on UNESCO for 2011, about $80 million, which is 22 percent of UNESCO's budget. If the law is triggered and the U.S. does not pay in 2012, the U.S. would lose its vote in the organization. Plus, UNESCO officials have told the U.S. that if U.S. funds are not expected over the next two years, they may have to initiate massive layoffs beginning in January to account for the shortfall in funds.

Palestinian membership in UNESCO would also grant them immediate membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The U.S. would have to stop contributing to WIPO but America is not a member of UNIDO.

We're told that the State Department is currently having their attorneys draft a legal opinion on how U.S. laws would affect U.S. participations in U.N. bodies that grant the Palestinians member state status. Their ruling will have ramifications not only for UNESCO, but for all other U.N. specialized agencies that the PLO is expected to submit their application to, such as the IAEA, WTO, WHO, World Bank, and others.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the administration was "still working" on what the legislative triggers regarding funding would mean. But a State Department official said that the administration has not been able to find a way around the law.

"We have a suicide vest padlocked around our torso and the Palestinians have the remote control," the State Department official said. "They get to decide whether they blow us up or not. It's 100 percent up to them."

Meanwhile, Congress is ratcheting up its own involvement on the issue. Later today, 10 House appropriators will call on UNESCO not to move forward with consideration of Palestinian membership, in a letter to UNESCO Executive Director Irina Bokova obtained by The Cable.

"We... respectfully request that you do everything in your power to ensure that the Palestine Liberation Organization's application to become a Member State does not come before the UNESCO General Conference," states the letter, prepared by the office of Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ). "Any recognition of Palestine as a Member State would not only jeopardize the hope for a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but would endanger the United States' contribution to UNESCO."

Signatories of the letter include the heads of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Tom Cole (R-OK), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), Steve Austria (R-IL), Charles Dent (R-PA), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Adam Schiff (D-CA).

One senior Republican staffer pointed out the irony that it was President George W. Bush who brought the United States back into UNESCO, and now the United States might be forced to leave the organization by Obama -- a president who came to office promising to reverse what he argued was Bush's tendency to ignore the international community.

"Remember, we joined UNESCO in part because we needed them to help de-radicalize textbooks particularly in the Muslim world after 9/11 and as a platform to counter expanding anti-American attitudes in academia," the staffer said "And now, by de-funding UNESCO, we lose all the leverage we had gained."