Buenos Aires — World Jewish groups denounced plans by Argentina and Iran to form a truth commission to investigate the deadly 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that Argentine courts say was sponsored by Iran.
The commission, announced during the weekend, was seen as a minor diplomatic victory for Iran as it fights a U.S.-led effort to isolate Tehran because of its nuclear program.
Argentine courts have said Iran was behind the attack on the Jewish center, which killed 85 people. The commission agreement, which will have to be approved by Argentina’s Congress, outlines plans for Argentine officials to interview suspects in Iran - not in a third country, as originally proposed by Argentina.
“Forming a joint truth commission with Iran is a farce,” Shimon Samuels, Paris-based director of international relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Reuters on Monday.
“It will whitewash terrorism and encourage the mullahs to become patrons of further attacks.”
The bombing came two years after a group linked to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the Israeli Embassy in the Argentine capital, which killed 29. Tehran has denied links to either attack.
Led by Washington, the West has imposed sanctions on Iran - including directly targeting its key oil revenues - to try to force it into a diplomatic solution that would lay to rest Western concerns that it is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb.
“The benefits of a truth commission are not evident for Argentina,” said Ignacio Labaqui, a political science professor at Catholic University in Buenos Aires. “As for Iran, it’s pure gain. It makes no real concessions and it becomes less isolated.”
WANTED BY INTERPOL
In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is among the officials sought by Argentina, which is home to Latin America’s largest Jewish community.
The five “truth commissioners” will be jointly nominated and will not be residents of Argentina or Iran, according to a document posted on President Cristina Fernandez’s Facebook page.
After analyzing the evidence, “the commission will give its vision and issue a report with recommendations about how the case should proceed within the legal and regulatory framework of both parties,” according to the agreement.
Fernandez - allied with left-leaning Latin American leaders who are on good terms with Tehran, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez - hailed the accord as historic.
But Jewish leaders see no upside in forming a truth commission with Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has questioned the Holocaust and where authorities arrested more than a dozen journalists in the past two days over their links to “anti-revolutionary” media.
“Forming a ‘Truth Commission’ which does not fall under Argentine law governing criminal proceedings marks a decline of our sovereignty,” said a statement issued on Monday from Argentina’s two main Jewish groups, known as the AMIA and DAIA.
“This is a setback for obtaining justice,” it said.