Obama on Iran attack plot: Ask Holder

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama today offered tepid diplomatic and legal responses to an alleged Iranian plot to detonate a bomb in a crowded shopping district in the nation’s capital.

“Our first step is to make sure we prosecute those individual [plotters] … I will leave to the Attorney General [Eric Holder] the task of describing how that will proceed,” Obama said at a White House press conference today.

“The second thing we will continue to do is to apply the toughest sanctions and continue to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and pays a price,” said Obama, who worked as a law professor at the University of Chicago.

The bomb plot, which also envisaged additional attacks on the Israeli and Saudi embassies and other targets in Washington D.C., was unveiled Tuesday by Holder.

The plot matches numerous other attacks by Iran’s Islamic theocracy against U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, where 241 Marines and other Americans, plus 58 French soldiers, were killed by suicide bombers in 1983.

Since 1979, Iranian officials and their secretive al-Quds force, have also arranged attacks on civilian targets in Europe and South America. In 1983, for example, Iranian-funded agents attacked the Israeli embassy in Argentina, killing four Israelis and 25 Argentines.

U.S. officials should try to cripple Iran’s government-run overseas companies, toughen economic sanctions and run covert operations against Iran, former Gen. Jack Keane said in a Fox News interview. “We need a real strategic look“ to deal with Iran, he said.

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have used a mix of limited economic sanctions, diplomatic inducements, military deterrence and shifting military alliances to frustrate Iran’s regional ambitions.

In the Persian Gulf, the U.S. has alliances with Iraq’s democratic government and Saudi Arabia’ s ruling family. But both alliances are under strain as Obama promotes majority-rule in Arab countries and disengagement from Iraq, while nearby Iran uses proxies, its burgeoning nuclear development program and terror attacks to dominate the divided Iraqi government and to topple the Saudis’ rival theocracy.

“We’re the ones that are waffling,” Keane said, but “we should take a whole new strategic outlook … let’s do something.”

When he ran for the White House in 2008, Obama invited Iran’s theocracy to resolve political differences via negotiations. In 2009 and 2010, Obama declined to support pro-democracy protestors in Iran. Those protestors have since been suppressed and many participants jailed.

Obama’s first answers at the press conference emphasized law and diplomacy.

“This was not simply a plot aimed at the United States … this was a plot aimed at the Saudi Ambassador, “ he said. “We would not be bringing forward a case [against the two Iranians] unless we knew exactly how to support the allegations contained in the indictment,” he said. “We have contacted all our allies in the international community, we’ve laid the facts before them … there will not be a dispute that this in fact happened.”

Obama also insisted that a legal and diplomatic approach could work. “More and more countries have been willing to speak out in forceful ways … to say this is not acceptable behavior, and this is now having an impact,” he said. “Iran’s economy is in a much more difficult state than it was several years ago.”

But Obama responded more forcefully when he was asked by a second reporter whether the plot amounts to an act of war.

“Now we don’t take options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran, but what you can expect is that we will continue to apply pressure to Iran’s government,” Obama said.

If the bomb plot had gone forward, “it could have resulted in the death of … innocent civilians in the U.S. … There has to be accountability [and] the important thing is for the Iranians to answer … why anyone in their government is engaged in these activities.”

“The Iranians declared war against the United States” in 1980, Keane said. “We’ve been very slow to realize what it meant.”

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