“Iran’s record of cooperation with international authorities is profoundly deficient, which underlines the concern that its engagement on this matter be focused on achieving justice promptly,” it said in a statement.
The foreign ministers of Argentina and Iran on Sunday announced the establishment of a “truth commission” to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA), a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
The decision brought a sharp response from Israel, whose embassy in the same city was bombed two years earlier in an attack Argentine investigators believe was linked to the AMIA one.
Argentine prosecutors blamed the AMIA bombing on Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally, Hezbollah. In 2006 it issued arrest warrants for eight senior Iranian officials, including a former president and the current defense minister. Argentina had earlier expelled Iranian diplomats in connection with both attacks.
Eighty-five people died in the AMIA suicide truck bombing, the worst terrorist attack in Argentina’s history. Twenty-nine were killed in the 1992 embassy blast, also a suicide bombing, the deadliest attack ever against an Israeli diplomatic mission.
Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman said Monday the Argentine investigation had found “a clear resemblance” between the two bombings, giving Israel “the natural right to follow the investigations and to expect the perpetrators and their sponsors to be brought to justice.”
The agreement raised “severe questions,” the spokesman said.
“It establishes a committee whose recommendations are non-mandatory, and it provides the country which all the evidence points at, namely Iran, with the capacity to delay indefinitely the committee’s works. It is doubtful whether this is how justice will be rendered.”
But when asked during a press briefing the same day how the U.S. viewed the agreement, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland did not criticize it.
“I think we all, obviously, have all wanted to see the perpetrators brought to justice, so if the Argentine government thinks this might take us closer to that, then we’ll have to see,” she said in response to an Argentine reporter’s question
(She also said the Iranian government had “a responsibility to cooperate fully with Argentine authorities in seeing that the perpetrators are brought to justice.”)
Two days later, the matter was again raised during the State Department’s daily briefing, with Nuland asked whether the U.S. shared Israel’s concerns about the Iran-Argentina agreement.
She said she had nothing further to add to her earlier comments, but when pressed – and told there was a suggestion the U.S. was not standing alongside its ally, Israel, on the matter – she said she would take the question and see whether the department had anything further to add.
A day later, the department issued the statement voicing skepticism.
“For the last 18 years, the United States and the international community have joined the Argentine government and victims of this horrific attack in seeking justice,” it said. “We continue to stress that the Iranian government has a responsibility to cooperate fully with Argentine authorities in seeing that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
“We are skeptical that such a just solution can be found in the arrangement announced.”
Iran has consistently denied involvement in the AMIA attack, and responded angrily when Interpol in 2007 issued “red notices” at Argentina’s request for five Iranians and a Lebanese.
The Iranians included current Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi; former intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan; Mohsen Rezai, secretary of an advisory council to Iran’s supreme leader; and two diplomats based in Buenos Aires at the time of the bombing. The wanted Lebanese was Hezbollah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyah, who was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus in 2008.
The agreement announced Sunday establishes a commission chaired by an independent expert “of high moral and legal standing,” and comprising jurists selected by Argentina and Iran, but not citizens of either country.
After examining evidence and questioning the Iranian officials accused of involvement, the commission will give recommendations on how the two countries’ authorities should proceed.
For two years rumors have circulated to the effect that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s government was keen to do a deal with Iran to get beyond the long running diplomatic dispute and strengthen economic ties.
Kirchner called his week’s deal “historic” but others were critical.
“How is it possible to reach an understanding to solve the case with those who have denied any involvement in the bombing?” asked Sergio Widder, the Buenos Aires-based Latin America director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group.
“Whose legal standards are going to prevail?” he said. “What level of trust can anyone have in a totalitarian regime that has no respect for human rights?”
Apart from the five Iranians subject to Interpol red notices, Argentina has accused an additional three of involvement in the bombing plot, including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. After taking legal advice Interpol decided not to issue notices for the three.
A “red notice is Interpol’s equivalent of a most-wanted list, described by the agency as one of its “most powerful tools in tracking international fugitives.”