On May 30, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, paying a visit to Bolivia as part of an official trip, was warmly welcomed by Bolivian President Evo Morales; Morales and Vahidi attended a military celebration together that aired on the country's national television. The presence of Vahidi, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, in Bolivia shows the level of complicity between Morales's Bolivia and the Islamic Republic. Vahidi is wanted by Interpol for his alleged participation in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center – the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina, or AMIA -- in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eighty-five people died in that attack, including six Bolivian nationals. And Vahidi is one of five Iranian nationals on Interpol's top-wanted men whose arrest can be carried out in any part of the world.
As soon as Argentina became aware that the Iranian Defense Minister was in Latin America, Alberto Nisman, the lead prosecutor investigating the AMIA terrorist attack, contacted Interpol's Bolivia offices to demand Vahidi's immediate arrest. Vahidi, however, was travelling on a diplomatic passport that granted him immunity from being arrested. And anyway, Bolivia, a close Iran ally, would have never arrested him.
After Nisman's complaint, Morales asked the Iranian minister to leave the country, so as not to create a scandal. Then Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca wrote to his Argentine counterpart, apologizing for the incident, saying Vahidi would be leaving immediately.
"As a result of this lamentable situation ... the government of Bolivia has taken the corresponding provisions to see to it that Ahmad Vahidi immediately leaves Bolivian territory," Choquehuanca wrote. He added that: "Unfortunately, (the Bolivian Defense Ministry) did not know about the background of the case."
These apologies did not convince the Jewish community in Argentina, which still considers Morales' behavior a "joke."
"It is a mockery and an affront that a friendly country such as Bolivia receives a minister accused of masterminding an attack that left 85 people dead," said Guillermo Borger, president of the AIMA.
Needless to say, Iran once again denied any involvement in the bombing. Argentina's government avoided any further comment that would generate embarrassments with Bolivia, leaving Argentina's Jewish community to raise its voice against Vahidi's presence in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, alone.
"Latin America is no longer U.S. backyard"
But instead of being an embarrassment, Vahidi's trip to Bolivia was occasion to reinforce its military ties with La Paz.
"Latin America is no longer the United States' backyard," Vahidi told the Iranian daily Tehran Times. "Iran will continue expanding its constructive relations with the [Latin American] region's countries, especially the countries of the ALBA alliance [i.e. Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua.]"
He added that the expansion of ties with the Latin American countries is one of the Iranian government's foreign policy priorities.
In a speech delivered in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Vahidi declared that Iran was willing to offer "any type of military cooperation" to Bolivia in the framework of bilateral agreements. At the same time, it was announced that Iran would give military support to Bolivia in case of confrontation with neighboring Chile. In fact, Chile has threatened the of use military force should Bolivia not recognize the 1904 treaty that sanctioned the end of the so-called Atacama war, which transferred the entire Bolivian coast to Chile, leaving Bolivia landlocked.
Iran considers the consolidation of ties with Latin America an essential tool for its strategy to become a world power. As in the recent case of Venezuela, these friendly ALBA countries can help Iran circumvent international sanctions. Latin American countries are also important suppliers of strategic fissile materials, such as uranium for its nuclear program. In return, Iran will help to develop nuclear facilities in South America. Bolivia announced last year that it plans to build a nuclear energy plant with Iran's help and there are suspicions in Israel, and elsewhere, that Bolivia is supplying uranium for Iran's nuclear program.
Vahidi threatens the U.S.
During the official trip, Vahidi also took the opportunity to threaten the United States.
"The U.S., if it acts logically, will not do so after it experienced abjectness in Iraq and Afghanistan. The strong Iran is ready for enemy-crushing and tough response in case of any illogical and violent behavior by the U.S.," Vahidi said.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for the Americas, Behrouz Kamalvandi, was also in Bolivia. He, too, pointed out that the United States set up terrorist groups in an attempt to pile up pressure on their non-allies. As reported by the Iranian website Press TV, the Iranian diplomat added that Washington pursues the three major objectives of gaining control over energy resources, providing Israel's security, and oppressing movements under the pretext of fighting terrorism in the Middle East.
The Argentinean Jewish community complained to the Argentinean government for not demanding Bolivia be more cooperative in the fight against terror, saying that the "Vahidi Case" is not yet closed. The Argentinean government says that Interpol in Bolivia should have held Vahidi, though they admit being worried about the strengthening of relations between Iran and other Latin American countries, namely Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua. But Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner doesn't want to take political risks, prefering not to clash with Argentina's neighbors.
It is not clear from the news reports whether Vahidi travelled to Bolivia by private plane.
If he didn't, considering there are no direct flights from Tehran to La Paz, we should wonder whether Vahidi stopped for a few days in Venezuela, where there are weekly direct flights to Tehran. If this is the case, the Argentinean government should also complain to the Interpol in Venezuela for not holding the mastermind of the 1994 terror attack.