With the help of Venezuela, there is reason to believe that Argentina is cooperating with Iran on its the nuclear issue in a deal that involves Argentina's willingness to drop the accusations against Iran for the 1994 bombing in return for business.
In a confidential letter that was sent by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ros-Lehtinen sought to establish "status of any possible economic projects Argentina may be engaged in with Venezuela that may involve Iran." Ros-Lehtinen also sought to establish "the extent of any nuclear cooperation that may be at play between Argentina, Venezuela and Iran." The letter was co-signed by Florida's Republican Congressmen Connie Mack and David Rivera. "We are writing to express our concerns about information that our offices have received about potential efforts by Iran of nuclear cooperation with Argentina, using Venezuela as its intermediary," the three legislators wrote.
The existence of economic projects linking Iran, Venezuela and Argentina have long been known. Univision, a Spanish-language television network in the United States, mentions that, in the framework of this cooperation, Venezuela has launched a program for the development of at least 200 "socialist factories" through agreements with Iran and Argentina -- mainly food processing plants and industrial equipment factories. Although the funding involved about $300 million, most of these factories have not been built and, very likely, will never be built. The suspicion is that financial resources have been diverted for different purposes: in particular that the so-called agricultural program is a cover-up operation to hide payments that have nothing to do with food factories.
In the past, Argentina and Iran maintained a nuclear cooperation agreement that, under pressure from U.S. President George Bush, was suspended in the early 1990s by then-President Carlos Menem, But more recently, Iran has become interested in acquiring scientific know-how and technology from the Argentine nuclear program. The Miami Herald reports that in 2007 Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had asked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on a personal basis, to to use his good relations with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner to convince her to restart nuclear cooperation with Iran. Further, the website La Patilla published information about a meeting on February 6, 2010 between the Venezuelan vice President Elias Jaua and the Argentinean Planning Minister, Julio De Vido, close assistant to President Fernandez Kirchner, in which they discussed nuclear cooperation. Though the evidence implicating Argentina with Iran in nuclear development is yet not clear, last April the Argentinean paper Perfil reported that in a meeting last January with Iran's ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Argentinean Foreign Minister, Hector Timerman, offered to drop investigations in Iran relating to the 1994 bombings in Buenos Aires against the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA). In return, it seems, Timerman's desire was to deepen economic relations between Buenos Aires and Teheran.
According to Perfil, Syria then passed the Argentinean FM's offer to Iran. In a leaked cable quoted by the newspaper, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi allegedly told the Iranian President that "Argentina is no longer interested in solving those two attacks, but in exchange prefers improving its economic relations with Iran."
The AMIA bombing
This year marks the 17th anniversary of the AMIA bombing, which killed 87 people and injured more than 100, in 1994. Argentina was also hit by a terrorist attack in 1992; the bombing targeted the Israel Embassy in Buenos Aires, killed 29 people and wounded 242. In both events, Hezbollah and Iran are suspected of having perpetrated the terrorist attacks. To date, however, there has been no justice.. The person believed to be the bombings's planner is Ahmad Vahidi, the current Iranian Defense Minister, who recently visited Bolivia after a controversial official invitation by Bolivian President Evo Morales.
The Iranian government recently said that is offering its help to "uncover the truth" behind the AMIA bombing. The Iranian Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement that "the ministry denounces the fact that the truth about the criminal action has become the target of plots and political games and that Argentine officials at the time, whose illegal actions have been disclosed and convicted by the court in this regard, misled judicial investigation and set the stage for the escape of real culprits behind the atrocity from the hands of justice through pointing a finger of blame at a number of nationals of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Despite these hypocritical remarks, and despite the fact that Iran says that the Argentinean justice leveled false allegations against Hezbollah and Iran, the current Argentinean government thanked Iran for offering its help. Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said that Iran's offer is "an unprecedented and very positive step." The Associated Press reported that Iran, which denies that Iranian citizens were involved, is even preparing its own report on the bombing and wants to begin a dialogue with the Argentines to help solve the case. Given the fact that in the past the Iranian government has accused the "Zionists" of perpetrating the 1994 bombing, the report will most likely bring paradoxical allegations that the "Jews" committed the attack against the Jewish center in Buenos Aires.
Still, the Argentinean FM Timerman said he is optimistic that Iran will help solve the case: "There is sufficient evidence to bring to trial various Iranian citizens, and we want to see if, through this dialogue, they will understand that we all have to submit ourselves to justice." As some Argentinean media recently put it, Buenos Aires is apparently more interested in pursuing a rapprochement with Tehran, with all the good business that will follow, than pursuing the cause of justice. It is clear from Timerman's words of appeasement that even a country such as Argentina, which suffered from terrorist attacks inspired by Iran, is willing to turn the page and open its doors to doing business with the Ayatollahs. What then are the chances for trade and military sanctions against Iran to succeed?
Iran looks to diversify allies in Latin America
The worries expressed by Ros-Lehtinen and her colleagues only add another tessera to the mosaic that Iran is preparing south of America's doorstep. In response, the U.S. State Department answered Ros-Lehtinen with the following statement: "We have no evidence to support the claim that Venezuela serves as an interlocutor between Iran and Argentina on nuclear issues, nor that Argentina is granting Iran access to its nuclear technology. Argentina has long maintained a constructive position at the International Atomic Energy Agency with respect to Iran's nuclear program". There is no reason, unfortunately, to be reassured by the words of the State Department.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli political analyst, points out that, as Iran's staunchest ally in Latin America, Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, was diagnosed with a cancer, which means that the Venezuelan President might move further down in his alliance with Iran on its priority list. Chavez's illness may be why Iran could try to forge a strong alliance with another important Latin American country:: Argentina. Although it is not yet clear whether Argentina is sending nuclear technology to Iran with the help of Venezuela, it is a reality that Teheran wants to diversify its relations in Latin America away from Venezuela.
For now, the Argentinean government is responding exactly as Iran wishes, as can bee seen in the Argentinean FM's warm and friendly statements on Iran's cooperation in the case of AMIA. Argentina is not just helping the mullahs' regime by opening new doors in Latin America, it is also whitewashing Iran's terrorist record, would leave hundreds of victims and their families permanently deprived of justice.