2 Iranians Charged In Plot To Kill Saudi Envoy

Two Iranians — one a naturalized U.S. citizen — have been charged with plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations talks to Steve Inskeep about the criminal charges filed Tuesday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have some analysis now on the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. The Justice Department says the following: Iranians tried to enlist a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination, possibly by blowing up a Washington restaurant where the Saudi ambassador dined.

We're going to talk about this with Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow with the Council of Foreign Relations.

Mr. Takeyh, welcome back to the program.

RAY TAKEYH: Thank you very much for having me.

INSKEEP: I've got to tell you. Some people heard this story and the first reaction was what? Really? What was your reaction?

TAKEYH: I thought it was brazen. It's somewhat bizarre. But maybe its bizarre nature reflects the fact that it's an act of terrorism whereby Iran is moving outside its comfort zone. The usual acts of terrorism have been confined to the Middle East. So as they move to a new portfolio, a new chapter, a new venue, you begin to see some aspect of this as inconsistent with their previous terrorist activities.

INSKEEP: Let's just take this evidence on its face for a moment. The Justice Department says they evidence that the Iranians did this or a portion - elements of the Iranian government did this. Why would Iran want to target the Saudi ambassador?

TAKEYH: Well, the notion that Iran is targeting Saudi Arabia and its diplomatic personnel is not new, and that part of it is not unusual. Iran has usually - for the past 30 years, whenever the relationship with Saudi Arabia has been poor, terrorism has been one of the instruments that Iranians have used against the Saudis. And you see this whether its Khobar Tower bombing of 1996, May 2003 attempt to conduct terrorist operations on Saudi Arabia. And so on and so forth.

The only thing that's kind of unusual about this particular episode is not so much the target but the venue, namely actually having a terrorist operation on soil of the United States and American capital. That's the part that's unusual.

INSKEEP: Couple of other things, here. The U.S. government blames this plot on an element of the Iranian government, the Quds Force, as it's called, a part of the Revolutionary Guard, which is a quasi military - really a military force that's off to the side of the regular army. Could they really be involved in such things?

TAKEYH: The Quds Force has been responsible for this kind of activity, namely relationship with militant groups and terrorist operations that take place outside of Iran's territory. They've been having involvements with the Syrians in their attempt to repress popular discontent and various other terrorist activities throughout the past three decades. So the Quds Brigade would be the logical choice for this kind of a plot.

INSKEEP: And does anything about the story the U.S. government is telling make you wonder or doubt that they have the whole story here yet?

TAKEYH: Well, as I said, the unusual aspect of this is actually having a terrorist operation on American territory. I, you know, I don't know what the evidence about this it, but I'm not in position to doubt it.

As I said, it reflects a brazen new chapter in Iranian terror plot and Iranian terror history if true. In a sense, it goes back to early 1980s, where Iran was actually conducting terrorist operations globally - in Europe and Argentina and even in the United States in 1980 in Bethesda, Maryland.

So essentially it's back to the future, if you would. If true, then Iran has gone back to early revolutionary years, where it was militant hostile to international order at large and was willing to defy international norms in a brazen, direct manner.

INSKEEP: Mr. Takeyh, thanks very much.

TAKEYH: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Ray Takeyh's most recent book is called "Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs."

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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