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Iran seeks access to suspect in assassination plot, foreign ministry says

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:37 PM EDT, Mon October 17, 2011
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, left, with Pakistani finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh last month.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, left, with Pakistani finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh last month.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. will grant access to suspect if requested, State Department spokesman says
  • Iran demands access to the man arrested in the alleged assassination plot
  • Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Iran has asked the U.S. for information about allegations
  • Iran denies U.S. claims there has already been a meeting with an American envoy

(CNN) -- Officials in Washington said Monday they would grant consular access to the U.S.-held suspect in an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said officials do not believe the suspect, Manssor Arbabsia, 56, is entitled to consular visits because he is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. But the agency has long encouraged authorities to allow consular visits in such cases and would do so this time, he said.

Earlier, a senior administration official said Monday the United States will grant access if Iran formally requests it. The Iranian Foreign Ministry posted a statement to its website Sunday saying that it had given a note demanding access to Arbabsia. but Toner said that it did not appear that the request had been received yet.

U.S. officials arrested Arbabsia last week on suspicion that he conspired with an Iran-based member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to hire hit men from a Mexican drug cartel to set off a bomb next year at a restaurant to be visited by Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said the accusations were baseless and called for access to the suspect.

"Iran's Foreign Ministry reiterated that any delay by the United States in facilitating consular contact with the Iranian national would be contrary to the logic of international law and the United States' obligations," the Foreign Ministry said.

The United States alleges individuals in the Iranian government knew about the plot.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has said Iran is willing to look at evidence in the plot.

"We are prepared to consider any issue, even if it is falsely created, with patience. We have asked the Unites States to provide us with the relevant information regarding this scenario," he told the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The State Department said last week there had been direct contact with Iran about the alleged plot, but a senior Iranian official denied it.

Two State Department officials said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met with Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations.

But the Iranian mission in New York denied it.

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"There were no kinds of negotiations between the two countries, and there was not such a contact," said Alireza Miryousefi, press secretary for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations.

Salehi said Monday the American allegations were aimed at creating discord between states in the region.

And he asserted that Iran had never been involved in terrorist operations, the Islamic Republic News Agency said.

Salehi's apparent willingness to look at evidence of the plot comes in stark contrast to the response of the country's supreme leader.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the allegations "meaningless and absurd" in his first public reaction to alleged plot.

"They (the U.S.) want to isolate Iran," Khamenei said over chants of "Down with America" in a speech Saturday before thousands in Gilangharb, Iran.

The alleged scheme involved a connection to the Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, which formally answers to Khamenei.

Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is also accused in the alleged hit.

Authorities developed the case against the suspects with the help of an undercover informant posing as an associate of a Mexican drug cartel, according to officials and an FBI agent's affidavit.

Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author, told CNN on Saturday that the described plot doesn't fit the Quds Force's modus operandi.

Using a drug cartel would be risky and a Quds Force agent would be more reliable than Arbabsiar, a used-car salesman in Texas, he said.

"It's sloppy. It's uncharacteristic," Aslan said. "It really does not serve Iran's interest in any legitimate way."

Iran could more easily target Saudi diplomats in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, Aslan said. "Doing so on U.S. soil is unmistakably an attack on the United States, not on Saudi Arabia."

CNN's Jill Dougherty, Caroline Faraj and Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.

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