|Prosecutors accuse two men of planning to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, above, the Saudi ambassador to the US [AFP]
An Iranian-American accused of being the central figure in an alleged plot involving senior Iranian officials to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington has pleaded not guilty in a New York court.
Manssor Arbabsiar, who lived for years in the US state of Texas where he worked as a used car salesman, entered his plea on Monday during a five-minute hearing in a federal court.
Arbabsiar, 56, who was arrested on September 29 in New York, faces several charges including conspiracy to murder a
foreign official, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.
Another man, Gholam Shakuri, who was also charged in the plot, is believed by US officials to be a member of Iran's Quds Force, the covert operations arm of the country's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Shakuri remains at large.
US prosecutors accuse the two men of planning to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel
al-Jubeir, by planting a bomb in a restaurant in the capital.
Arbabsiar, a naturalised US citizen, was formally indicted on October 20.
Tehran has strongly denied any involvement in the plot in which the US says the Quds force plotted to kill the Saudi envoy by hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5m.
The case has increased tensions between Tehran and Washington, with US President Barack Obama demanding answers and "accountability" from Iran.
According to the indictment, Arbabsiar and Shakuri conspired to "kill the ambassador to the United States of Saudi Arabia, while the ambassador was in the United States".
To set up the alleged hit, Arbabsiar arranged for the wiring of $100,000 to the United States as a down payment, according to the indictment.
Details, such as Arbabsiar's reportedly bumbling nature, and his trust of a US federal informant impersonating a Mexican drug cartel figure, have raised eyebrows among Iran specialists as to the seriousness of the plot.
The consensus view in Obama's administration, according to news agencies, is that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, probably knew of the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador, while iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not.
Ahmadinejad has said Washington fabricated the plot to cause a rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia.