The last time that Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman made international news, he was needlessly provoking a crisis in bilateral relations with the United States over a routine military-training exercise. A few weeks earlier, Timerman had accused the U.S. government of operating “torture” schools both at home and abroad.
Now, thanks to the Argentine weekly publication Perfil, Timerman is receiving attention for his position on Iran. According to Perfil, which obtained a classified document, Timerman met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his foreign minister, Walid Moallem, back in January and suggested that Argentina “would be ready to freeze the investigations of terrorist bombings attributed to Iran in 1992 and 1994, in exchange for renewing and improving trade relations between the countries, which at their height reached $1.2 billion a year.”
The two bombings in question occurred in Buenos Aires and killed a combined total of 114 people; several hundred more were injured. The 1992 attack struck the Israeli embassy, while the 1994 explosion destroyed the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Iranian agents and their terrorist allies plotted both atrocities. Former Argentine president Néstor Kirchner, who served from 2003 to 2007 and died last year, expedited investigations of the bombings and publicly criticized Tehran over its refusal to cooperate. His wife, Cristina, who succeeded him as president in 2007, has kept up strong pressure on the Iranians. Like her late husband, Cristina Kirchner has maintained warm relations with the Jewish community.
We should also note that Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, and that Timerman is its first-ever Jewish foreign minister. And yet, if the Perfil report is accurate, Kirchner and Timerman are now prepared to whitewash the Iranian role in Argentina’s two deadliest terrorist attacks in return for some vague economic concessions.
Israel, not surprisingly, is outraged. If the Perfil story is true, an Israeli Foreign <inistry spokesman told the British Telegraph, “then it would be a display of infinite cynicism and a dishonor to the dead.” Israeli officials may decide to cancel Timerman’s upcoming trip to their country, unless he can provide a satisfactory explanation of what happened. So far, Argentina’s Foreign Ministry has not denied the report. I spoke with an Argentine official who claimed that Timerman was quoted out of context in the classified document, and that his remarks have been misunderstood. But that begs the question: What did he actually mean to say?
While the Timerman-Iran story is shocking, the news about Hugo Chávez’s latest visit to Argentina is almost comical. The Venezuelan dictator is in Buenos Aires this week to receive the Rodolfo Walsh prize from the University of La Plata, which is honoring Chávez for his efforts to support “popular communication.” Seriously. Words fail.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.