Following months of diplomatic talks, Argentina and Iran on Sunday signed an agreement in Ethiopia to set up an independent commission to investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing, which Argentinean prosecutors believe was masterminded by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi signed the text on Monday. Both countries will create a ‘truth commission’ consisting of five independent judges, none of whom will be from either Argentina or Iran, to investigate the bombing of the Jewish community center, in which 85 people were killed and hundreds wounded. Under the agreement, the suspects in the case may be interrogated by Argentinean justice officials but only in Tehran.
Timerman, who is Jewish, said the agreement would make it possible for Argentinean lawyers to question Iranian suspects in Tehran. “This is the main objective of the relatives of the victims in the advancement of the case. In order to advance, Argentinean officials need to question Iranian suspects. That is what is going to happen," Timerman said in an interview from the Ethiopian capital Addis Abeba, where the agreement was signed on the sidelines of an African Union summit.
The text still has to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries.
Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner wrote on her Twitter account that almost 19 years after the attack a legal instrument based on international law had been agreed upon by Argentina and Iran in order to proceed with the investigation. She said that the agreement with Iran was "historic" because it guaranteed due process.
Though Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out, no arrests has been made in the case so far. Six Iranians have been on the Interpol international police agency's most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the bombing, including current Iranian Defense Minister Ahmed Vahidi.
In October 2010, Iran rejected Argentina's proposal to put its accused citizens on trial in a neutral country. "The Iranian government has ensured that no Iranian citizen was involved, directly or indirectly, in the bombing of the AMIA,” read an Iranian letter sent to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Iran also is believed to be behind the 1992 car bombing that destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and injuring 242. No-one has been convicted in either of the attacks.
LAJC, DAIA and AMIA reject deal with Iran; Israel summons Argentine ambassador in protest
In reaction to the announcement, the heads of theJewish representative bodies DAIA and AMIA issued a joint statement in which they rejected the deal. "The formation of a ‘Truth Commission’, something that is not anticipated by the Argentinean code of criminal procedure, implies not only a renunciation of our sovereignty. It also means that the conclusions to which the judicial investigation arrived and based on which the Interpol arrest warrants were issued is not accepted as ‘The Truth’," the presidents of DAIA and AMIA, Julio Schlosser and Guillermo Berger, declared.
They added: "We recall that our prosecutors, as well as the Secretariat and the General Assembly of Interpol, backed the issuing of arrest warrants and Red Notices. It is also necessary to recall that at the time, the Legal Affairs Committee of Interpol decided that the detailed evidence presented by the Argentinean prosecutors was sufficient to justify the issue of arrest warrants. To ignore the work of the Argentine Judiciary and to replace it with a Commission that, in the best of scenarios, will issue at an unknown moment in time a “recommendation” to the various parties, constitutes without doubt a step backward in the quest for Justice. Whatever Commission is set up can only serve for the purpose of scrutinizing the legality of the judicial interrogations."
Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins said in reaction that the Argentinean government's agreement with Iran "devalues the efforts made by the country’s judiciary and by Interpol, whose investigations point towards certain Iranian citizens suspected of carrying out orders to commit a terrorist attack and to kill as many people as possible." Terpins called the deal with Iran "an affront to justice" and added: "How can one pretend to search for the truth when only last week 14 journalists were arrested in Iran for allegedly cooperating with foreign media sympathetic to the Iranian opposition? How can Argentina discover the truth in a country whose leadership denies the Holocaust? It is a sad irony that this agreement was signed on 27 January, International Holocaust Remembrance Day."
The agreement was also received with "deep disappointment" by the Israeli government. On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem summoned the Argentinean ambassador in Tel Aviv to protest against the move. Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said the Argentina-Iran agreement was "like inviting a murderer to investigate the killings he committed."
The ministry also issued a statement which read: "Israel is clearly and understandably concerned by the matter. The 1994 bombing targeted the AMIA Jewish community center and resulted in 85 dead and hundreds of wounded, Jews and non-Jews alike. Though the attack took place on Argentinean soil and was aimed at Argentinean citizens, the findings of the ensuing investigation by Argentinean authorities have shown a clear resemblance to the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which occurred two years earlier. The proven connection between the two attacks grants us the natural right to follow the investigations and to expect that the perpetrators and their sponsors will be brought to justice, particularly when many places around the world continue to suffer from the Iranian terror plague.
"The Argentinean authorities have pointed at Iran as the sponsor of the attack, and took the necessary steps with Interpol in accordance with their findings. Now, this recent agreement raises serious questions: it establishes a committee whose recommendations are non-mandatory, and it allows the country to which all the evidence points, namely Iran, to delay the committee's work indefinitely. It is doubtful whether this is the way that justice will be rendered."
Video: Declaration by Guillermo Borger and Julio Schlosser (in Spanish)