TEHRAN, Iran — Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, has vowed that he will ask lawmakers to cancel the country’s 2013 memorandum with Iran to probe a deadly 1994 bombing.
December 21, 2015 - The July 18, 1994, attack on the Argentine (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires killed 85 people. Over the lengthy 20-year investigation into the incident, Argentina has officially accused Iran of involvement three times, but Iran has always denied the accusations.
Under a memorandum agreed to in January 2013, Iran and Argentina agreed to establish a “truth commission,” comprised of five independent judges — none of whom would be either Iranian or Argentinean. The two sides announced that the commission would be tasked with discovery of the incident’s various dimensions. Following the agreement on the memorandum, which was struck in Ethiopia, the foreign ministers of Iran and Argentina announced in a letter to the secretary-general of Interpol that the two countries would pursue the issue themselves, so that Interpol would not need to take any other action.
An informed source in Tehran said on condition of anonymity, “There had been secret talks between former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman regarding the AMIA file. These negotiations were a starting point to solve the AMIA case.” The source added, “In the [initial] negotiations, held in Syria, representatives from the two parties discussed the different dimensions of the issue. Later, in Geneva, they held talks again.” Following several rounds of negotiations subsequently held in Ethiopia, the two parties reached agreement on a memorandum, which was signed by the foreign ministers in 2013. “The formation of the commission, composed of five international jurists, was the most notable part of the pact,” the source said, pointing to the provisions of the accord.
Israel, Jewish organizations and domestic opponents of then-Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner voiced strong opposition to the memorandum after it was signed. Fernandez de Kirchner sternly responded to this criticism in a speech before the UN General Assembly in September 2014.
The source told Al-Monitor, “During the meetings that took place between the foreign ministers of Iran and Argentina, the Argentine minister explicitly stated multiple times that Argentina is confident that the Iranian government and authorities had no role in the bombing....”
Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation, in January accused Fernandez de Kirchner, who still was president at the time, of covering up the involvement of former Iranian officials. Nisman filed a complaint in which he wrote that Fernandez de Kirchner, with the signing of the 2013 memorandum with Iran, had wanted to cover up Iranian involvement in the bombing.
Around the same time, based on Nisman’s 289-page report, The New York Times reported that Iranian and Argentine officials had reached an agreement under which Argentina would export meat to Iran in exchange for oil, and that Argentina also agreed to shield Iranian officials from charges in the 1994 bombing. According to the Times’ report, Fernandez de Kirchner and Timmerman supported the deal but were never able to follow through on it as Argentine officials failed to get Interpol to lift the arrest warrants issued for the former Iranian officials. The Times’ account of a trade-related quid pro quo over the AMIA incident has been disputed. “The subject of trade between Iran and Argentina was never raised, even partially, in the talks between the two countries,” an Iranian source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Regardless of the issue of the AMIA [bombing], the trade between Iran and Argentina has always been positive and has continued, in such a way that it grew from $300 million in 2007 to over $1 billion in 2011,” he said.
On Jan. 19, only hours before he was set to deliver his report on the 2013 memorandum with Iran to Argentina’s parliament, Nisman was found dead in his apartment in Buenos Aires. This led to numerous accusations against the Fernandez de Kirchner government. The opposition accused it of having murdered Nisman. In response, Fernandez de Kirchner said that Nisman’s death was not a suicide. “They used him while he was alive, then they needed him dead,” she said, accusing her enemies of attempting to defame her. Anibal Fernandez, then the Argentine Cabinet’s chief of staff, claimed that rogue agents from the Argentine intelligence services had been behind the death.
With Fernandez de Kirchner having stepped down, Argentina’s new president, Macri, has declared that he will end the deal with Iran over the AMIA bombing.
Tehran says Buenos Aires has not yet officially canceled the accord, but that the failure to comply with its provisions over the past two years shows that virtually no progress has been made on its implementation. “The procedure for ratification of the Memorandum of Understanding with Argentina was completed, and it has been approved by Iran’s Cabinet and [Supreme] National Security Council. Iran has met its obligations,” the Iranian source told Al-Monitor. How Iran will react to Argentina’s potential abandonment of the deal remains to be seen