As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have said, the relationship between Argentina and Iran just keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser.”
To review the history: In 1992 and 1994, respectively, Iranian-backed terrorists blew up the Israeli embassy and the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. These attacks killed a combined total of 114 people and wounded hundreds more. The proof of Tehran’s complicity is overwhelming: Interpol has outstanding arrest warrants for several high-profile Iranians, and Argentina has spent years demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice. (Writing in the Jerusalem Post last week, Matthew Levitt provided a good summary of the evidence linking Iranian regime officials to the 1994 AMIA bombing.)
A few months ago, however, the Buenos Aires newspaper Perfil obtained an Iranian document indicating that Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman had secretly traveled to Syria and offered to suspend the two bombing investigations in return for Iranian economic concessions. To date, neither Timerman nor Argentine president Cristina Kirchner has denied the substance of the Perfil article; both have merely said that they will not “dignify” its allegations with a response. Meanwhile, in late May, Iranian defense chief Ahmad Vahidi made an official visit to Bolivia, prompting the Argentine foreign ministry to file a formal complaint with the Bolivian government. Vahidi, you see, is one of the Iranians wanted by Interpol for planning the 1994 AMIA bombing. The 17th anniversary of that bombing fell on July 18, and President Kirchner shed tears at a ceremony marking the somber occasion.
In short, Argentina’s approach to Tehran seems utterly schizophrenic: Kirchner cries over Iranian terrorism, but Timerman proposes to whitewash it in exchange for closer trade ties. The latest wrinkle came earlier this month, when the Iranian foreign ministry told Buenos Aires that it was “ready for a constructive dialogue” about the AMIA attack. Of course, Tehran still denies that Iranian agents played any role in the attack, and it still refuses to hand over the Interpol suspects. Nevertheless, Timerman praised the Iranians for their offer of cooperation, calling it “an unprecedented and very positive advance.”
Argentine Jewish leaders, not surprisingly, were far more skeptical. In a joint statement, the AMIA and the Delegation of Israeli Associations in Argentina said that “Declarations from the Iranian government of their wish to cooperate with the Argentine government to help shed light on the terrorist attack . . . are not credible.”
Indeed, Tehran’s offer is a patently hollow and meaningless gesture. (Remember: Iran appointed Vahidi as its foreign minister well after his Interpol arrest warrant had been issued.) The fact that Timerman welcomed it so enthusiastically shows just how unserious and erratic Argentine foreign policy has become.
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.