Iran Cuts Ties With Argentina Over Arrest of Envoy

TEHRAN - Iran is cutting its cultural and economic ties with Argentina because of the arrest in Britain of a former Iranian ambassador to Argentina in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, state television said Saturday.

Former envoy Hadi Soleimanpour, 47, was arrested in Britain on Thursday after Argentina requested his extradition in connection with the AMIA Jewish Community Center blast that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires. He was ambassador there at the time.

"Iran's foreign ministry official in charge of the Americas desk announced Iran's strong objection to the Argentine judiciary's measure and informed him [the Argentine charge d'affaires] of Iran's decision on halting cultural and economic cooperation with Argentina," state television quoted Foreign Ministry official Mehdi Mohtashami as saying.

Argentina's charge d'affaires in Tehran had no comment on the issue. Iranian Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Argentina has a charge d'affaires but no ambassador at its embassy in Tehran, the same level of representation as that of Iran in Buenos Aires.

Diplomats said the Iranian initiative could affect Argentine exports to Iran, which include wheat, sunflower oil, rice and other basic foodstuffs.

Tehran denies any involvement in the Buenos Aires bombing and previously withdrew its ambassador from Argentina to protest against the claim of Iranian involvement.

One diplomat in Tehran said the Iranian move suggested the government wanted to express anger at the former diplomat's arrest, but was stopping short of a major new diplomatic initiative against Argentina.

Britain's charge d'affaires in Tehran, Matthew Gould, told Reuters he had told Iranian Foreign Ministry officials Soleimanpour's arrest was not politically motivated, and the court's decision was independent of the British government.

"The British government cannot interfere at this stage of the extradition process," he said, adding that he had been summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry and asked for the immediate release of the former diplomat.

Soleimanpour entered Britain on a student visa in February last year to study at Durham University.