By Cindy Saine, VOA, Capitol Hill
Some U.S. lawmakers say Iran crossed a "red line" in its alleged involvement in a foiled plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, and are calling on President Barack Obama to reevaluate U.S. policy toward Iran.
Several expert witnesses told the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday that if Iranian security forces were involved - as the Obama administration says - the plan would had to have been approved at the highest levels of the Tehran government. Tehran denies any involvement in the plot.
The House panel focused on the potential terrorism threat to the United States posed by Iran. Several lawmakers pointed out that the United States has designated the Iranian government as the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism for decades.
But the Chairman of the committee, Republican Peter King, said the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant takes Iran's hostilities to a new level.
"So you have the assassination of a foreign ambassador, the willingness to kill hundreds of Americans. This is an act of war," said King.
Retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane agreed and had harsh criticism for President Obama's Iran policy.
"The Iranian-bungled operation to use proxies to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, and to purposely plan the operation inside the United States, is a stunning rebuke to the Obama administration's policy of negotiation and isolation with the Iranians," said Keane.
Call to action
Keane and some of other invited witnesses said the United States should engage in covert operations against leaders of Iran's elite Quds Force military unit, who are believed to have been involved in the plot. The experts testified it is unimaginable that Quds Force members would engage in such a plot without approval from the highest levels of the Iranian government. All of the experts agreed that the United States should work with its allies to impose sanctions on Iran's central bank.
But Representative King said that would not be enough.
"I think, for instance, we should expel Iranian officials - both in New York at the U.N. and also here in Washington. Many of them are working as spies," said King.
One of the witnesses at the hearing, analyst Lawrence Korb with the Center for American Progress research group, defended the Obama administration's policies, saying that current international sanctions on Iran are effective, and that the country is experiencing political turmoil.
"My feeling is that this attack, or the alleged attack, is a sign of desperation. It shows that the sanctions are working. And while we should not take anything off the table, I think that what we need to do is to use this occasion as an opportunity to assemble a coalition to increase those sanctions," said Korb.
Some Democratic members of the panel, including Representative Bennie Thompson, agreed and cautioned against overreacting to the alleged plot.
"Iran is a nation that has already isolated itself from the world community. It has long lost even more credibility, following its latest round of illegitimate elections and the Arab Spring that has swept the Middle East," said Thompson. "Let us not lend them the legitimacy they need by taking reckless actions that would lead down the path to another war."
The Homeland Security hearing came on the same day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told VOA that the United States has "very strong evidence" about the alleged plot by an Iranian American to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. She called the plot shocking, and said Washington hopes Iran will turn over a second suspect, who is a member of Iran's Quds Force.
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