Netanyahu: Argentine decision to scrap accord with Iran 'very welcome'

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December 13, 2015 15:54

New government's decision to cancel cooperation with Iran over terror investigation set to revitalize ties with Israel.

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Rescue workers search for survivors and victims in the rubble of the AMIA building

Rescue workers search for survivors and victims in the rubble left after a powerful car bomb destroyed the Buenos Aires headquarters of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), in this July 18, 1994 file photo. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Argentina’s new president Mauricio Macri Sunday for essentially canceling an agreement with Iran that would probably have absolved it of responsibility for the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

Macri’s decision not to appeal a court ruling against the agreement with Iran, something his predecessor intended to do, is a harbinger of significantly better Argentinean- Israeli ties, Netanyahu said.

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“This is a welcome change of direction, and I hope that we will see a significant improvement in Israeli-Argentinean ties, as well as an improvement in ties with other South American countries, in the coming years,” the premier commented at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.

A day after Macri formally took over from Cristina Fernandez, a government source in Buenos Aires announced that the government will not appeal a court’s decision to strike down the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran over investigating the bombing that killed 85 and wounded more than 300.

That memorandum would have created a joint “truth commission” made up of five independent judges from third-party countries to investigate the bombing, two chosen by each country and one agreed upon by both. It would also have allowed for Iranian suspects in the case to be questioned.

Fernandez had said she would appeal the ruling last year of a federal court voiding the agreement. The court deemed the MOU “unconstitutional.”

Argentina’s signing of the MOU in 2013 led to a steep deterioration in ties between Jerusalem and Buenos Aires.

One diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post last month that the involvement of Iran in the investigation essentially “let the criminal investigate the crime.”

Tehran denies any responsibility in the attack and refuses to extradite its citizens. Argentinean laws meanwhile forbid trying suspects in absentia.

The government source, who is familiar with the matter but declined to be named, said Buenos Aires would issue a news release on Monday making it clear it accepted the court’s decision and would not seek to revive the deal.

“This news is excellent, not only for the DAIA [the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas, Argentina’s leading Jewish association] but also for Argentinean society,” DAIA President Julio Schlosser said.

Still, it is unclear how Argentinean investigators can now take the case forward, given there is no apparent way to interview the Iranian suspects.

Israel barely hid its satisfaction when the Conservative Macri won a runoff presidential election last month, and there was hopes that this would have a ripple effect through other Latin American states.

During a visit to Israel last year, Marci – in a meeting with Netanyahu – said he would like to see a “strategic alliance” between the two countries.

Macri has named a Conservative rabbi, Sergio Bergman, as the country’s environment minister.

Bergman is the senior rabbi of the traditional Congregación Israelita Argentina, and founded Active Memory, a group that demonstrated every Monday for a decade seeking justice for the victims of the AMIA bombing.

The news of the agreement’s cancellation was also lauded by international Jewish organizations, with both the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the World Jewish Congress stating that it portended improved relations with Buenos Aires.

Macri’s recent election marked a “sea change and represents a shift in Latin America” in general, Shimon Samuels, director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post by phone from Paris.

Samuels, who has been involved in South American affairs since the late ’60s, said the president “is somebody who has already reached out to Israel,” and that he “expect[s] good things from the new government.”

Likewise, the World Jewish Congress asserted that the decision sent “a strong signal that the new administration of President Macri is committed to continuing the investigation into the AMIA bombing.”

Robert Singer, CEO of the World Jewish Congress, said, “For almost three years, the Argentinean Jewish community, with the active support of the World Jewish Congress and our Latin American branch, the Latin American Jewish Congress, campaigned to have this deal rescinded. Today, our efforts have borne fruit. This flawed agreement with Iran should never have been signed in the first place, and we are glad that the new government has now canceled it.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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