BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — Argentina and Iran signed an agreement to form an independent commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish community center.
The pact was signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries on Sunday in Ethiopia on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
The parliaments of both countries must ratify the agreement, which creates a Commission of Truth consisting of five independent judges, none from either Argentina or Iran. Suspects may be interrogated by Argentinian justice officials, but only in Tehran.
Argentina Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who is Jewish, said the ability of Argentina legal officials to question Iranian suspects was vital.
“This is the main objective of the relatives of the victims in the advancement of the case," Timerman said in an interview with the state news agency from Ethiopia. "In order to advance, Argentinian officials need to question Iranian suspects. That’s what will happen."
Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez wrote on her Twitter account that nearly 19 years after the attack, which killed 85 and injured hundreds, a legal instrument based on international law was agreed upon between Argentina and Iran in order to proceed with the investigation. She said the agreement was "historic" because it guarantees due process.
Timerman met for first time with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, on Sept. 27 at the United Nations headquarters in New York to discuss the 1994 AMIA bombing case. Israel, the United States and the Argentinian Jewish community have objected to the bilateral meetings.
Though Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out, no arrests have been made in the case. Six Iranians have been on the Interpol international police agency’s most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the bombing, including the current Iranian defense minister, Gen. Ahmed Vahidi.
In October 2010, Iran rejected Argentina’s proposal to put its accused citizens on trial in a neutral country.
"The Iranian government has ensured that no Iranian citizen was involved, directly or indirectly, in the bombing of the AMIA,” read the official letter sent to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“How is it possible to reach an understanding to solve the case with those who have denied any involvement in the bombing?" Sergio Widder, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for Latin America, told JTA. "Whose legal standards are going to prevail? What level of trust can anyone have in a totalitarian regime that has no respect for human rights?”
Local Jewish leaders have yet to comment. Some relatives of the victims said they hope the agreement will advance the longstanding investigation. Some, including members of the Argentinian political opposition, have expressed doubts as to whether Iran will participate in the investigation.
Iran also is believed to be behind the 1992 car bombing that destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring 242. No one has been convicted in either of the attacks.