President Obama on Alleged Iranian Plot: “There Has to Be Accountability”

President Obama today said that whether Iran’s top leaders were aware of the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate, in Washington, DC, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, they would be held responsible.

“Even if at the highest levels there was not detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity,” the president said at a joint press availability in the East Room of the White House with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. “The important thing is for Iran to answer the international community why anybody in their government is engaging in these kinds of activities.”

The comments were the first public remarks made by the president about the alleged plot, which the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

The president described the plot as being “not just a dangerous escalation,” but “part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government.” The idea that diplomats, who are supposed to be protected, would be a target for a threat of physical violence is a violation, the president said, of a principle of international behavior.

“And for Iran to have been involved in a plot like this indicates the degree to which it has been outside of accepted norms of international behavior for far too long,” the president said. “This is just one example of a series of steps that they’ve taken to create violence and to behave in a way that you don’t see other countries doing.”

He detailed the precise information that Attorney General Eric Holder had shared. “What we know is that an individual of Iranian-American descent was involved in a plot to assassinate the ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Obama said, “and we also know that he had direct links, was paid by and directed by individuals in the Iranian government.”

The president said “those facts are there for all to see, and we would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all the allegations that are…contained in the indictment.” He said that anyone who analyzes the facts would not “dispute that this is in fact what happened.”

With the caveat that “we don’t take any options off the table” in terms of how the US will respond, the president said the first step would be to “prosecute those individuals that have been named in the indictment…The second thing that we’re going to continue to do is to apply the toughest sanctions and…to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and that it pays a price for this kind of behavior.”

While some critics have suggested the incident underlines how the president’s approach to Iran has yet to bear any fruit, since the regime has yet to change its behavior, the president heralded his approach to Iran as having made progress.

“Keep in mind that when I came into office, I think Iran saw itself as being able to play various countries against each other and avoid the kind of isolation that it deserved,” he said. “Since that time, what we’ve seen, whether it relates to its nuclear program or its state-sponsored terrorism, that more and more countries have been willing to speak out in forceful ways, whether through the United Nations or through other avenues, to say this is not acceptable behavior.”

“It is having an impact,” he said. “Iran’s economy is in a much more difficult state now than it was several years ago, in part because we’ve been able to unify the international community in naming Iran’s misbehavior and saying that it’s got to stop and there are going to be consequences to its actions.”

-Jake Tapper