Iran’s offer to cooperate with Argentina in the investigation of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires is shocking, in light of Tehran’s apparent complicity in that attack. Alberto Nisman, the independent prosecutor in the terrorism case, reacted to the offer by challenging Tehran to surrender the Iranian officials who organized the bombing. By contrast, the rather obsequious reaction of Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timmerman, raises troubling questions about the true nature of the relationship between the Ahmadinejad and Kirchner governments.
Monday marked the 17th anniversary of the car-bombing, which leveled the AMIA center in the heart of Argentina’s capital, killing 85 people; two years earlier, a few blocks away, the Israeli embassy was destroyed in another attack, which claimed 29 lives. Argentine and U.S. authorities have concluded that both bombings were the work of a Hezbollah cell coordinated and supported by the Iranian embassy. Iranian officials posted in Buenos Aires at the time, including Mohsen Rabbani, and Tehran’s current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi, have Interpol warrants pending against them for the crime. The prosecutor Nisman has theorized that the attacks were related to a decision by then President Carlos Saul Menem to terminate Argentina’s cooperation with Iran’s nuclear program around 1992.
That troubling story will not go away. Just last week, U.S. congressional leaders asked the Department of State to investigate whether Iran and Argentina have renewed nuclear cooperation in a deal brokered and paid for by Venezuela. Their July 15 letter cited “reports that in 2007 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly asked [Venezuelan leader] Hugo Chávez to intercede with President Nestor Kirchner to change Argentine policy to allow Iran access to Argentine technology” to aid Iran’s “nuclear program.” The letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sent by the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, Rep. Connie Mack; and subcommittee member, Rep. David Rivera, referred to Venezuelan documents that are now in the hands of the State Department.
One of these secret documents, which have been obtained from sources within the Venezuelan government and been published by an independent website in Venezuela, is an internal report of a conversation between planning minister Julio De Vido, who is a confidante of current Argentine President Christina Kirchner, and Venezuelan vice president Elias Jaua in which the subject of nuclear cooperation between their two countries was raised.
Another document bears the signature of Hugo Chávez, authorizing the payment of roughly $240 million to “Argentina” for a number of economic development projects carried out in collaboration with “Iran.” According to that document from Chávez’s office, that substantial sum was the first of two payments by Venezuela to Argentina in 2010-2011 for supposed cooperation on dozens of joint commercial ventures carried out by Argentina and Iran in Venezuela. A second document lists 10 Argentine companies—based in the rural Argentine province of Santa Fe that is the home of President Kirchner—that were supposed to perform the work using these funds.
It is not known whether these Argentina-Iran projects are real or merely a façade to justify the transfer of funds. However, it is quite suspicious that these three governments are engaging in these significant transactions in absolute secrecy. In recent months, a national scandal was sparked in Argentina by reports of mere diplomatic contact between Argentina and Iran. It is not logical that the Kirchner government would run the great political risk of conducting joint ventures with Iran, particularly if they are merely routine projects. Moreover, in light of Iran’s pursuit of an illegal nuclear program and Venezuela’s hostility toward the United States, it is very troubling that the Kirchner government would accept substantial secret payments from Chávez for clandestine cooperation with Tehran.
In the worst case scenario, the governments involved may be concealing a decision to renew Argentina’s collaboration with Iran’s rogue nuclear program. Among the questions raised by this collection of documents are:
• What is the true nature of the Argentina-Iran-Venezuela cooperation, and why have these programs been carried out in secret?
• Have Argentine authorities accounted for the payment of about $240 million? If not, where is this money today?
• Has Argentina’s nuclear program had any contact with or provided any information, technology, or material to Venezuela or Iran since 1992? If not, does it plan to do so?
It is vital that authorities investigate, reveal the truth, and ensure that these governments are held accountable for any violations of international sanctions and applicable U.S. laws.