BUENOS AIRES (JTA) – Consternation is mounting in Argentina and Israel after the leaking of a document purportedly showing that Argentina’s foreign minister secretly offered Iran a deal to quash the investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in exchange for better trade relations.
The Argentinean newspaper Perfil broke the story with a report based on what it said was an Iranian document showing that the foreign minister, Hector Timerman, made the offer to Iran via Syrian intermediaries. According to the paper, opponents of the regime in Tehran leaked the documents.
Until now, Argentina has been one of the most vociferous critics of Iran in all of Latin America, having experienced two deadly terrorist attacks in the 1990s believed to be the work of Iran: the 1994 bombing, which killed 85, and the Israeli Embassy bombing in 1992, which left 29 dead. At last year’s annual U.N. General Assembly gathering of heads of state, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called on Iran to surrender the Iranian officials wanted in connection with the 1994 bombing.
What makes the Timerman story all the more bizarre is that Timerman is Jewish, and that he has refused to respond to the allegations; his office says Timerman won’t dignify the report with a comment.
In the meantime, Timerman’s silence threatens to derail his planned trip to Israel next week, and possibly to harm relations between Argentina and Israel.
"We are awaiting an official response to Argentina’s Foreign Ministry,” a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, told the La Nacion newspaper. “If confirmed, the report would constitute a grave and infinite manifestation of cynicism and dishonor to the dead.”
According to the Perfil newspaper report, written by veteran journalist Pepe Eliaschev, Timerman made his proposal to drop the investigations of the 1992 and 1994 bombings in meetings on January 23 and 24 with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem and President Bashar Assad in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Under the proposed agreement, Argentina would not seek to bring to justice Iran’s current defense minister, Ahmed Vahidi, who is the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant by Interpol in connection with the 1994 attack. The perpetrators of the attack were never brought to justice, though an investigation into the attack is still ongoing in Argentina. In exchange for looking the other way, Perfil reported, Argentina’s trade with Iran — currently estimated at $1.2 billion a year – would rise significantly.
The report comes at a particularly inauspicious time. Aside from Timerman’s upcoming trip to Israel, he was slated to meet with the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, on Wednesday in Buenos Aires. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Iran’s most stalwart friend in Latin America, is also in Argentina this week to sign new trade agreements with Argentina’s president.
The report has touched on raw nerves in the Argentinean Jewish community regarding the still-unresolved attack and prompted heated debate over whether or not it is true.
Sergio Widder, the Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urged the Argentine government to establish a special investigation unit for the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing, just as it has done for the AMIA attack.
However, AMIA’s current president, Guillermo Borger, is defending Timerman.
“I talked yesterday with the Foreign Minister Timerman, and he assured me that this information is not true — and more than that, he told me that it is so ridiculous that he can’t reply to this accusation,” Borger told JTA in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he had gone to attend the annual conference of the Latin American Jewish Congress.
Claudio Avruj, former executive director of the political umbrella organization of Argentine Jewry, the DAIA, asked why AMIA’s president was rebutting the Perfil article rather than Timerman himself.
Alberto Nissman, the chief prosecutor in the AMIA bombing case, expressed incredulity about the Perfil article.
“I can’t trust in this internal document of Iran, and it is incredible that Perfil published it,” he said. “Even if there is an agreement, nobody will stop me” from bringing the perpetrators to justice. Nissman promised that this year would show more progress in his investigation than the last three years combined, with more evidence of the involvement of Iranian officials in the 1994 attack.