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White House Tries To Increase Pressure On Iran

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And I'm Guy Raz. The Obama administration is moving quickly to drum up international pressure on Iran. That's one day after announcing it had uncovered an Iranian terror plot, but some Iran watchers are raising doubts about this storyline. And as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, they wonder if the U.S. can get the sort of diplomatic mileage it once out of this case.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to swing into action, calling world leaders to inform them about the alleged plot. She told the Center for American Progress today that the conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington was directed by, as she put it, elements of the Iranian government.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: This plot, very fortunately disrupted by the excellent work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, was a flagrant violation of international and U.S. law and a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government's longstanding use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism.

KELEMEN: She says Iran must be held accountable for its actions. The U.S. has already added more Iranian officials to a sanctions blacklist, and Clinton is trying to rally other countries to do the same.

CLINTON: We will work closely with our international partners to increase Iran's isolation and the pressure on its government, and we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security.

KELEMEN: One Iran watcher, Rasool Nafisi, has some doubts about how successful the U.S. will be in this push for more sanctions.

RASOOL NAFISI: There aren't enough reasons to slap more sanctions on Iran. It has a heinous human rights record, its activities across the world, but this one really doesn't hold much water.

KELEMEN: The way the U.S. presents the case looks odd to Nafisi, who has studied the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Though they're known to use proxies to carry out terrorist attacks, Nafisi says hiring a Mexican drug trafficker would be a major change in strategy.

NAFISI: Committing such an act is so clumsy. Relying on Mexican cartels doesn't sound very much like what Iranian would do.

KELEMEN: Ali Alfoneh of the American Enterprise Institute says it's unlikely Iranian leaders signed off on this.

ALI ALFONEH: Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei is a very, very cautious statesman and politician. He is not the gambler type. He would not be the individual who would order assassination of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, D.C.

KELEMEN: But Alfoneh says he wouldn't be surprised if certain elements of the Revolutionary Guard Corps had a different agenda.

ALFONEH: The Revolutionary Guard has a long history of creating crisis in Iran's relations with foreign countries, especially the United States and Saudi Arabia, in order to create a permanent crisis, a situation of extraordinary circumstances under which the armed forces and especially the Revolutionary Guard gains the upper hand in Tehran.

KELEMEN: And if this is a case of an internal power struggle, he doesn't think American diplomacy to step pressure on Iran will make much of a difference. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.