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AP Interview: Plot to kill envoy will hurt Iran

By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 11 2011 5:27 p.m. MDT

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton greets reporters before an interview with The Associated Press, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, at the State Department in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — The alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington on U.S. soil "crosses a line" that may persuade even reluctant nations to line up against Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The outlandish details of the foiled scheme only strengthen the U.S. allegation that Iran will go to almost any lengths to franchise terror abroad, she said.

"The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder-for-hire to kill the Saudi ambassador? Nobody could make that up, right?" Clinton said in a nearly hour-long, wide-ranging interview with AP reporters and editors.

Clinton said the alleged plot, which prosecutors say involved Iranian government agents trying to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir, "in the minds of many diplomats and government officials crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for." Clinton spoke with the AP just minutes after details of the scheme were announced by the Justice Department.

President Barack Obama called al-Jubeir to declare that the foiled assassination plot was a "flagrant" violation of U.S. and international law, the White House said. The president expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia and said he was committed to ensuring the security of diplomats in the United States. White House press secretary Jay Carney disclosed broad outlines of the call in a statement.

Clinton said the U.S. will use the case to try to "enlist more countries in working together against what is becoming a clearer and clearer threat" from Iran. "We want to reassure our friends that the complaints against Iran are well-founded."

The United States and numerous other countries accuse Iran of supporting international terrorism, but sanctions meant to punish Iran for that activity are uneven at best. The U.S. also accuses Iran of hiding a plan for nuclear weapons, which Iran denies. U.N. and other sanctions aimed at the nuclear program have gotten tougher in recent years but have not stopped Iran from developing technical prowess that could be used to produce either power or a bomb.

In the interview, Clinton also sounded a note of sympathy for Egypt's interim leaders, but expressed deep concern about 26 Egyptians killed last weekend in the worst violence since the February ouster of former dictator Hosni Mubarak. "This is all new territory," Clinton said.

She was resolute that the Palestinians will not win statehood through the United Nations, insisting that negotiations alone can achieve peace with Israel. She said the global spotlight on this issue has given the best opportunity in more than two decades to try to establish a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel.

She also predicted that Afghanistan will continue its outreach to Taliban insurgents, despite the assassination of the elder statesman leading the effort, and she said the U.S. will keep trying to help.

The Iranian plot case "creates a potential for international reaction that will further isolate Iran, that will raise questions about what they're up to, not only in the United States and Mexico," Clinton said.

She said that she, Obama and other senior U.S. officials would be calling world leaders to press the case against Iran, and to head off what she predicted would be Iranian denials and spin.

"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," Clinton said.

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