Wanted Iranians End Visit to Saudi Arabia

By Patrick Goodenough | June 12, 2008 | 8:19pm EDT
Mohsen Rezai (Photo: IRNA)

(1st Add: Includes comments from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.)

(CNSNews.com) - Two top Iranian politicians wanted by Argentina in connection with that country's deadliest terror attack have ended a visit to Saudi Arabia, and their hosts made no attempt to detain them.

A Jewish human rights and advocacy group which had earlier urged the authorities to act, on Thursday decried what it saw as a lost opportunity to bring the suspects to justice.

One of the two, former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, shared a platform with King Abdullah during a three-day gathering of Islamic figures in Mecca, and he also met twice with the Saudi monarch, most recently on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Rafsanjani flew out of the kingdom, after being seen off at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah by senior officials, including Mecca regional governor Prince Khalid al-Faisal.

The other wanted Iranian is Mohsen Rezai, the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who accompanied Rafsanjani and was photographed at his side during the visit.

Both men are the subjects of arrest warrants issued by an Argentine judge in late 2006 after a special prosecutor named them as suspects in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

Eighty-five people were killed and hundreds injured in the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) attack, which the prosecutor said was carried out by Hezbollah at Iran's behest. Iran denies the allegations.

Rezai is also the subject of a 2007 Interpol "red notice" based on the Argentine warrant. A red notice is a request by the international policing agency for member states to provisionally arrest a wanted individual with a view to extradition.

Late last week, the Argentine government brought Rezai's presence to the attention of Interpol, and also reportedly instructed its embassy in Riyadh to request that both men be detained ahead of possible extradition to face trial over the AMIA bombing.

An international Jewish human rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also discussed the matter with the Argentine government and Interpol's head office in Lyon, France.

Saudi Arabia is one of Interpol's 186 member countries.

An Interpol spokesman responded to queries Thursday by saying the agency's role is to help national police forces to identify or locate individuals who are the subject of red notices.

But it "cannot demand that any member country arrests the subject of a red notice" and also does not send officers to arrest such people.

"Each Interpol member country operates under its own national laws as each member country is a sovereign state," he said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre said Thursday that Interpol, Argentina and Saudi Arabia should "investigate the circumstances as to how this opportunity for justice came and went."

Noting that Rafsanjani and Rezai had been invited to participate in a conference of Islamic leaders discussing the way ahead for dialogue with other religions, the center -- which is involved in interfaith cooperation -- urged Muslims to express their consternation at how a potentially breakthrough religious initiative had been abused.

"Accomplices to terror are not interfaith players," it said. "Had such Interpol red notices been devalued in the case of Nazi war criminals identified by the late Simon Wiesenthal, there would have been a world outcry."

Wiesenthal, who died in 2005, was a Holocaust survivor who became a leading hunter of fugitive Nazis after World War II.

Rafsanjani was president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, and ran again in 2005, losing to political rival Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a second-round runoff.

He is head of the country's Expediency Council, a consultative body appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. Rafsanjani also chairs the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of 85 senior clerics.

Rezai headed the IRGC from 1981 to 1997, also ran for president in 2005 but withdrew on the eve of the election, and is secretary of the Expediency Council.

Saudi-Iran ties and the nuclear issue

Abdullah's invitation to Rafsanjani was seen as significant, given the fact that Shi'ite Iran and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia -- regarded as a U.S. ally -- have long been viewed as regional rivals.

They have had a difficult history since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Riyadh backed Saddam Hussein during the long Iraq-Iran war during the 1980s and the deaths of almost 300 Iranian pilgrims during clashes in Mecca in 1987 took relations to a low point, as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.

Saudi Arabia also has long accused Iran of fomenting unrest among minority Shi'ites in the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province, while voicing concern about Iran's growing regional clout and its role in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Saudi and the neighboring Persian Gulf states have long expressed unease about the security implications to the region of the nuclear crisis.

But Iran's official Irna news agency said that during his meeting with Rafsanjani this week, Abdullah criticized U.S. policy towards Iran and its nuclear program, calling it wrong and "contrary to the diplomatic convention," and adding that Saudi Arabia had told the U.S. of its position.

Abdullah's remarks, also cited by the Tehran Times and Iran's Press TV, illustrate the increasing difficulty Washington is having getting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to isolate Iran over the nuclear issue.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a memorandum with Saudi Arabia agreeing to help the kingdom to develop its own civilian nuclear energy program.

In a statement issued at the time, the State Department said Saudi Arabia had stated that it would "not pursue sensitive nuclear technologies, which stands in direct contrast to the actions of Iran."

Iran insists its program is designed for peaceful purposes including electricity production. Washington suspects that Tehran's nuclear activity is a cover for a weapons program.

The Iranians' visit to Saudi Arabia coincided with stepped-up attempts by the U.S. to get allies to exert pressure on Iran. The issue features high on the agenda during President Bush's European visit this week.

The U.S. and its partners are offering a fresh package of diplomatic and economic incentives for Tehran to comply with U.N. resolutions on suspending uranium enrichment.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana will this weekend take the offer to the Iranians, who spurned a similar proposal in 2006.

Ahmadinejad on Wednesday struck a defiant tone, saying in a speech that Iran had succeeded in advancing its nuclear program, and its "enemies cannot do a damned thing."





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