Argentina’s Strengthening Ties with Iran

Kirchner Helps Iran Whitewash Crimes in AMIA Bombing

President Cristina Kirchner continues to undermine justice for the worst terrorist attack in Argentine history.

In January 2013, the Kirchner government signed a pact establishing a joint “truth commission” with Tehran. Despite its Orwellian name, the only purpose of this commission is to whitewash Iran’s responsibility for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, known as the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (“AMIA”), in which 84 individuals died and 300 more were injured.

To date, no one has been brought to justice for this crime due to the Argentine government’s mishandling of the AMIA investigation.  Nevertheless, Argentine prosecutors, the U.S. Government and Interpol have publically accused the Iranian government of directing the attack and using the terrorist group Hezbollah to carry it out.  Interpol has issued arrest warrants for six Iranians in connection with the bombing.

Despite the clear and unambiguous findings of Argentina’s own prosecutors, the Kirchner government’s deal with Tehran gives Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, more diplomatic clout and threatens to absolve its leaders of responsibility for the attack.

According to the Washington Post, Argentina’s accord with Tehran was made “after months of secret negotiations” and would turn the case over to international jurists with no real expertise about the case. As part of the agreement, Iran has urged Argentina to lift Interpol arrest warrants (a.k.a. red notices) that would oblige third countries to detain on sight any of the Iranian accomplices and bring them to justice.

Families of the victims were astonished and disgusted by Argentina’s pact with Iran, referring to the agreement as a mockery of justice. The “truth commission” has also been criticized by the U.S. government and media.

“We are skeptical that such a just solution can be found in the arrangement announced," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated on January 31, 2013. "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.”

The Iranian operatives sought include the former “Cultural Attaché” in the Iranian Embassy Mohsen Rabbani, who also masterminded the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people and injured 242 more, as well as the thwarted attack on JFK International Airport in 2007.  Now based in Iran, Rabbani heads up the Oriental Thought Cultural Institute in Qom, Iran, where he is in a position to travel to Latin America to proselytize, recruit and train would-be terrorists.  He is suspected of travelling to the region multiple times despite having an extradition order and Interpol arrest warrants against him.

Iran’s intelligence penetration of South America has expanded “significantly” since the AMIA bombing, according to Dr. Matthew Levitt, a professional lecturer at Johns Hopkins University and senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.  “The Iranian presence in the region has grown from just a handful of embassies in the 1990s to six embassies in 2005 and ten by 2010,” he wrote in a peer-reviewed publication.

In 2007, the Washington Post reported on the extent of corruption preventing justice in the case:

Shortly after the community center blast, then-Argentine President Carlos Menem blamed the attack on Islamic extremists from Iran. Menem was eventually saddled with some of the blame for the derailed investigations that followed: In 2002, a former Iranian intelligence official alleged that Menem, by then out of office, had received $10 million to cover up Tehran's role in the attack. Menem vigorously denied the accusation, but it nonetheless damaged his standing.

The judge investigating the community center bombing -- Juan José Galeano -- was also criticized for undermining the case. He was impeached after being found guilty of various misdeeds, including paying a defendant $400,000 to testify. He also lost hundreds of hours of wiretap recordings and other evidence.

The only suspects to be tried in the case have been four Argentine police officers and a car thief who were charged as accessories for providing the van used in the bombing. They were acquitted for lack of proof.

Why would Argentina, under the leadership of President Kirchner, eviscerate its indictment of Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorists responsible for bombing a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires? According to The Economist the rationale is straightforward: Iran is suffering as a result economic sanctions levied on the country over its nuclear program (which, notably, Argentina helped jumpstart in the ‘70s and ‘80s), and Argentina is one of only a few countries that have not honored the sanctions.

“[Argentina] has become the seventh-biggest exporter to Iran, mainly supplying the country with corn, soybeans and wheat. During Ms Fernández’s presidency, Argentine exports to Iran have soared from $319m to $1.08 billion […] Argentina’s interventionist policies have forced it to import ever-greater amounts of energy. And Iran is likely to offer generous terms to any country willing to thumb its nose at the West and buy Iranian oil,” noted the magazine.  Argentina also assists Iran’s weapons programs by sharing missile technology via Venezuela, as documented in an investigation by one of Argentina’s leading newspapers in February 2013.

Argentina’s evolving relationship with Iran must be a source of major concern to the United States and to Europe. Click on the news links below to learn more about the issue of Iran’s close ties to Argentina:

Why should this matter to U.S. Policymakers?  For one thing, Argentina is currently looking for U.S. help in its ongoing battle with creditors.  Despite numerous judgments ordering it to pay, Argentina refuses to do so, and recently told a U.S. court that it would never abide by its judgment.  Such outrageous behavior is undeserving of U.S. legal assistance, yet Argentina has continually asked the U.S. to intervene on its behalf with amicus briefs in support of its case.  Despite having done so in the past, and the U.S. should discontinue its assistance immediately.  The U.S. should not assist a sovereign that defies our courts on a routine basis, and it should not assist a sovereign that is cozying up to Iran and playing a large role in the hemispheric drug trade.

Secondly, Argentina's behavior is not becoming of a member of the G-20.  In the past 12 months, it has been reprimanded by numerous international institutions, including the IMF (for failure to maintain accurate statistics) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) (for failure to maintain adequate anti-money-laundering and terrorist-financing controls).  It has aggressively pursued a closer relationship with Iran, and we have recently learned that it is playing a key role in the hemispheric drug trade.  This is all in addition to Argentina’s abuse of U.S. investors and U.S. courts.  Argentina should not enjoy the status of a G-20 member when it behaves like this.  It is trending toward Venezuela, or worse, and U.S. policymakers need to take aggressive action.

 

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