Argentina-Iran Row Over Terrorist Bombings

By Leandro Prada | July 7, 2008 | 8:18pm EDT

Buenos Aires ( - Iran's senior diplomat here has been sternly reprimanded for remarks suggesting that Argentina would be joining the enemy camp if President Nestor Kirchner criticizes Iran during a planned address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

The foreign ministry over the weekend criticized Mohsen Baharvand, whose official rank is business attache, for his statements about Kirchner, saying they were "unacceptable" and unbecoming the envoy of a foreign country.

Baharvand caused a stir when he told the Clarin newspaper that if Kirchner during his speech accuses Iran of involvement in two bombings in Argentina in the early 1990s, "many countries will interpret this [as a sign] that Argentina supports the war [against Iran]."

"International relations are in a very delicate moment," the envoy said. The U.N. session was an important one for Iran and would reveal which member states oppose Iran and which ones support it, he said.

Argentinean justice officials have accused top Iranian officials of involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and left 200 more wounded.

Two years earlier, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, an attack that killed 29 people.

Both bombings remain unsolved, but prosecutors in 2006 formally accused Iran and Hizballah -- the Shiite terrorist group Tehran set up in Lebanon -- in connection with the AMIA bombing.. They issued an international arrest warrant for former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and other senior officials. Iran has repeatedly denied responsibility, and refused to extradite them.

Kirchner, a left-leaning leader who is critical of Bush administration foreign policy, has demanded that Iran "answer the petitions" and hand over the suspects.

"Just as I strongly defend multilateralism and strongly reject the invasion of Iraq, I also ask that justice functions between all countries," Kirchner said Friday?

Kirchner told the Argentine official news agency TELAM that peaceful coexistence of countries required respect for the rule of law, and said Iran must respond to the legal requests.

After the foreign ministry reprimand, Baharvand appeared to back down, telling the Paginal12 newspaper he stood for "mutual respect" and upheld the rule of law.

In his earlier Clarin interview, Baharvand accused two small Jewish organizations of being behind "unofficial diplomacy against Iran through blackmail."

An AMIA delegation is heading to New York City, where Kirchner will address the world body on Tuesday.

Members of a group of families and friends of victims of the AMIA bombing have collected a petition of 150,000 signatures demanding that justice be done. Copies will be handed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

An AMIA representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Cybercast News Service that the group's travel to the U.N. was not as part of the official Argentinean party. Although AMIA did not know whether Kirchner planned to bring up the bombing in his speech, it was something the organization hoped for.

AMIA said it would not provide an official statement before until Kirchner speaks at the U.N.

The representative said the organization's official position was clearly stated last July, when it marked the 13th anniversary of the bombing. At the event, AMIA Chairman Luis Grynwald told Kirchner "the participation of Iranian officials [in the bombing] is proven by justice [department investigators]."

"Iran is the same state that does not abide by the U.N. resolution on weapons of mass destruction," Grynwald said. "It is the same [state] that does not cooperate, refusing to send officials summoned by Argentine Justice."

He urged Kirchner to sever relations with Tehran.

On Saturday, in a speech marking Yom Kippur -- the holiest day of the Jewish calendar -- Israeli ambassador to Argentina Rafael Eldad noted that Kirchner and his wife, presidential candidate Sen. Cristina Fernandez, had been present at the bombing anniversary commemoration in July after years of official nonattendance by Argentinean national leaders.

"With their presence in the July 18 rally, they showed the opening and conviction of a government who wants to elucidate the AMIA bombing, and will do whatever is necessary to move forward on this issue," the Jewish News Agency AJN quoted Eldad as saying.

See Also:
Argentine Bombing Underscores Iran's Terrorist Role (Oct. 27, 2006)

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