Argentina okays pact with Iran to probe AMIA bombing

Jewish community leaders in Argentina, Israel and US express outrage at Iran's participation in probe of 1994 terrorist attack.

Buenos Aires memorial 311 (photo credit: Gil Shefler)
Buenos Aires memorial 311
(photo credit: Gil Shefler)
Leaders of Argentina’s Jewish community – as well as their counterparts in the United States and Israel – expressed outrage on Thursday over a contentious vote in the country’s Chamber of Deputies that would pave the way for Iran to participate in the investigation of the 1994 Buenos Aires Jewish community center bombing.
The 131:113 vote to ratify a memorandum of understanding with Iran comes a week after the Argentine Senate voiced its approval of the MOU as well.
Officials in Argentina, Israel and the United States have previously blamed the attack, which killed 85 people at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building, on the Iranian regime.
In 2006, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman officially accused former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, among others, of ordering the attack, and claimed that Hezbollah had carried it out on Iran’s behalf. In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese over the attack. Islamic Jihad, believed to be linked to Iran and Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Members of Argentina’s judiciary have placed the blame on several key Iranian figures, including the country’s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
The accord ratified Thursday will establish a five-member commission made up of foreign legal experts, and outlines plans for Argentine judicial officials to travel to Tehran to question the people for whom Interpol has issued arrest warrants.
Commission members will analyze the documents presented by both nations’ judicial authorities and “issue a report containing recommendations on how to proceed with the case,” according to the memorandum.
During the vote, members of the Argentine Jewish community picketed outside the congress, holding signs that read “No.”
Local Jews have called the pact “unconstitutional” and stated that it will “whitewash the Iranian regime,” according to the World Jewish Congress, which quoted one local as saying the decision would “ensure that the attack’s organizers go unpunished.”
The agreement is a “shame,” asserted Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins on Thursday. It “causes offense to the families of the victims” and means that Vahidi will now “be tried in the garden of his home,” he told Agencia Judía de Noticias.
Terpins further accused the Argentine Congress of what he termed “an aggression against Jews and all Argentinians.”
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky also expressed outrage, telling The Jerusalem Post that “this decision of the Argentine Congress not only undermines the efforts of the government and people of Argentina over many years to bring the killers to justice, it rehabilitates those who sent them.”
Sharansky called the memorandum of understanding “a serious blow to those fighting terror around the world.”
While supporters of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – such as the country’s Jewish foreign minister, Héctor Timerman – maintain that the agreement will allow for the interrogation of Iranians suspected of involvement in the attack, Iran has stated that it will not agree to any such questioning.
The president has close ties with other Latin American leaders who are on good terms with Tehran, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and her supporters hailed the memorandum of understanding as a historic opportunity.
“This memorandum represents a bold decision, a brave decision that opens a possible path toward the truth,” said ruling party lawmaker Mara Brawer during the heated 12- hour debate.
Fernández controls both houses of Congress, meaning final ratification of the accord was expected. But opposition lawmakers questioned the government’s motives, with some saying commercial interests of oil and grain sales lay behind it.
Opposition lawmaker Eduardo Amadeo, an ex-ambassador to Washington, accused the government of putting commerce before justice and criticized Iran’s record on human rights.
“This is the chronicle of a failure foretold,” he said. “We’re going to sell out the victims for a barrel of oil.”
Claudio Epelman, the Latin American Jewish Congress’s executive director, told the Post on Thursday that “the government of Iran has a long-standing tradition of not complying with the agreements it signs. In this case, the Tehran regime seeks to discredit Argentina’s judiciary and the investigation [previously] undertaken....
Argentina demands these Iranians citizens face trial, Interpol has issued red notices for their arrests, and Iran protects them.”
Epelman said it was “unfortunate that the Argentine government has not understood this,” and claimed that by signing an agreement with Tehran, “it has taken an important step backward in the search [for] justice. This approval by Parliament inflicts a painful punch to the investigation and the victims.”
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also expressed doubts over the vote, telling reporters in Washington on Thursday that the United States was “skeptical that such a just solution can be found in the arrangement announced.”
“Iran’s record of cooperation with international authorities is profoundly deficient, which underlines the concern that its engagement on this matter be focused on achieving justice promptly,” she elaborated in a later statement.
Her Israeli counterpart, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, noted that he was disappointed by the Argentine Congress resolution.
Past experience has shown that agreements with governments of Iran are not kept, and fail to change Tehran’s line, he told the Post.
“Unfortunately the current agreement will also fail to achieve what has been and still is the only goal: bringing to justice those responsible for the terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires, and punishing them for their deeds,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.