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Clinton says plot will isolate Iran

By Andrew Quinn and Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran's alleged ties to a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington will isolate Tehran, strengthen Gulf security alliances and spur stricter enforcement of sanctions against Iranian interests, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

Clinton said the U.S. announcement that it had foiled the plot demonstrated that Tehran was a "bad guy" and a threat to the world at large.

"What everybody is learning is that nobody is safe from the Iranians. They have their own logic, their own way of thinking about the world and their place in it and they're vying with everybody for influence," Clinton told Reuters in an interview.

"This case will, I think, reinforce the well-grounded suspicions of many countries about what they're up to."

Clinton spoke shortly after U.S. officials said they had foiled a plot by two men linked to the Iranian government to assassinate the envoy of Saudi Arabia, Tehran's traditional rival for influence in the Gulf.

U.S. officials described the plan as conceived, sponsored and directed from Tehran and imposed sanctions on five men, including four members of an elite Iranian security force, they said were tied to the plot.

Iran, which is at odds with the United States and other western countries over its nuclear ambitions, rejected the U.S. accusation as a "prefabricated scenario."

Clinton said the United States was working with other countries to develop "a chorus of states condemning this behavior" and said it would give new force to repeated U.S. warnings about Iran's intentions.

"We think the facts of this case, which include the outreach by the Iranian authorities to a Mexican drug cartel seeking a murder-for-hire assassin will be quite disturbing to officials in countries that have even in the past give Iran a pass," Clinton said.

"With this very strong case that we have presented today it will give us extra leverage in dealing with Iran," Clinton said.

"This is just a blatant violation of the international norms that countries which have tried to hedge to some extent are going to find more pressure on them," Clinton said.

"CLOSE EVERY LOOPHOLE"

The United Nations has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran since December 2006 to step up pressure over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but which the United States and its allies fear is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

The United States and the European Union have also imposed their own unilateral sanctions on Iran, seeking to target individuals and industries they believe are playing a role in furthering Iran's nuclear ambitions.

U.S. officials have urged countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and China to tighten the enforcement of sanctions, and Clinton said she believed the discovery of the alleged assassination plot would make tougher sanctions enforcement more likely.

"We've surprised Iran in the world in how effectively we've enforced these sanctions. I think we've done a better job than people expected," Clinton said.

"But I want to do even more, close every loophole, make every country go the extra mile to enforce these sanctions and I think this helps us on that."

Clinton said the United States had worked closely with Saudi Arabia to unravel details of the plot, which she said "will certainly confirm the worst fears" of Saudi Arabia's rulers.

"But it will also perhaps strengthen their hand in dealing with the region about the threats posed by the Iranians," Clinton said, adding that it could also bolster already strong security cooperation among the United States, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries wary of Shi'ite Iran.

"We've spoken for some time about increasing our security cooperation, not just with individual states in the Gulf but between and among them, which I think this will probably hasten," Clinton said.

(Reporting by Andrew Quinn, Arshad Mohammed, Warren Strobel and Mary Milliken; writing by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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