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Top members of Congressional intelligence and military panels today called for tougher sanctions against Iran in light of an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) made the case in separate interviews on the Sunday political news shows, with Feinstein and Rogers citing Iran's nuclear program as further cause for concern.
The Justice Department disclosed the alleged assassination plot last week, as well as the arrest of a naturalized U.S. citizen holding both Iranian and U.S. passports. The administration alleges that the Iranian regime's Quds security force was also involved.
"The evidence is very good that senior elements of the Quds Force clearly knew and sanctioned this particular activity," Rogers said on ABC's "This Week."
Feinstein said she was first briefed on the matter in September and was initally doubtful about the intelligence.
"But as it turned out, it's very real," she said on "Fox News Sunday." "And what it represented was a rather unique effort between our Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, CIA, a kind of coming together of agencies to collect intelligence, both human and signals intelligence."
Later in the program, she added, "There should be no doubt and the evidence is very strong, the FBI believes that the case is both strong and good and will result in a conviction."
Feinstein specifically called for sanctions against Iran's central bank which would blacklist any foreign country or company that does business with the bank.
"I don't think the sanctions have been as complete as they must — as they should be. I wished they had sanctioned the central bank of Iran and that would affect oil and maybe that's why they didn't do it. But that makes a big difference" she said.
Rogers and McCain emphasized that the United States must pressure Russia and China — who "have clearly blocked meaningful measures," according to McCain — to punish Iran.
"Put pressure on the Chinese and the Russians and say, listen, you're either going to stand with the nation that is engaged in nation-state terrorism or you're going to stand with the rest of the international community," Rogers said.
Rogers said he wouldn't rule out military action in Iran, but Feinstein warned against the possibility of escalating the conflict into war.
"I mean, I think this is not — our country should not be looking to go to war. I think we should be looking to stop bad behavior, short of war," she said.
McCain, who is also a member of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, similarly warned of the "slippery slope" of engaging in central Africa, where President Barack Obama last week ordered the deployment of 100 combat advisers to assist the anti-insurgency movement against the Lord's Resistance Army.
"We've got to be very careful about how we engage. ... I worry about with the best of intentions we somehow get engaged in a commitment that we can't get out of," McCain said on CNN's "State of the Union." But he also called the rebel group "one of the most horrible groups ever to inhabit the earth" and said it is "appropriate for us to do what we can to prevent and eradicate" it.
McCain was also highly critical of Obama's Iran policy, saying that it "has clearly been a failure."
McCain's criticism extended to the administration's negotiations of a status of forces agreement with Iraq. The current agreement is set to expire at the end of the year, and it is unclear how many of the remaining 40,000-plus American troops in Iraq will stay into 2012 and whether a new agreement will be reached granting them legal immunity.
"This whole issue has been terribly mishandled," McCain said, arguing that about 13,000 U.S. troops need to remain in Iraq to avoid renewed violence and to counter Iranian influence.
Feinstein also argued for a continued presence beyond a few hundred troops.
"I think people are so anxious for our men and women to come home and I understand that," she said. "It is also important that the job is completed in a way that provides the greatest chances for stability for the country — I think that is a key goal for Afghanistan as well as Iraq. So, I am hopeful they will be able to quickly negotiate a status of forces Agreement. Absent of that, yes, we'll have to bring our people home."
Emily Cadei and Tim Starks contributed to this report.