Foreign Min. Mulls Delaying Argentinean Minister's Visit

Comment comes in wake of a report claiming that Argentina willing to 'forget' a series of bombings targeting Jewish landmarks in exchange for improved trade ties with Tehran.

The Foreign Ministry is considering postponing the planned visit here by Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, following reports of an agreement between Iran and Argentina that would halt investigations into the terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, in exchange for improved bilateral relations.

Foreign Ministry sources said yesterday they wouldn't rule out postponement of the visit, slated for next week, if the reports are true. Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said officials were still waiting for clarification from the Argentinean Foreign Minister concerning the matter.

Journalist Pepe Eliaschev, who broke the story in the Argentinean weekly Perfil, reported that a secret document revealed that Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner has been having clandestine talks with Iran. He wrote that Argentina told Tehran it will "forget" the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and AMIA, the Buenos Aires Jewish community center, in return for improved ties.

According to the story, which is receiving wide coverage in Argentina, Timerman suggested the idea to Tehran via Syrian President Bashar Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem, at a meeting in Syria on January 23.

In the terror attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1993, 29 people were killed and 242 were injured. In the bombing of the AMIA in July 1994, 85 people were killed and hundreds were wounded.

Timerman, Argentina's first Jewish foreign minister, took part 10 days ago in a memorial service marking the 19th anniversary of the embassy attack, where he said: "I come here as a representative of the government of Argentina, which is committed to doing justice in this matter."

According to evidence at the scene and wiretaps, Iranians were behind both attacks and were assisted by local Shiite Muslims; the attacks were coordinated by Iranian intelligence through the country's embassy in Buenos Aires.

Despite arrest warrants issued by Argentina, Iran has refused to extradite the suspects - then-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Iran's current defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi - and denies their involvement. After the warrants were dispatched, Iran began to scale down relations with Argentina, particularly economic ties.

Eliaschev told Haaretz he isn't surprised by the recent developments: "President Assad was welcomed in Buenos Aires with great respect. Argentina has recognized Palestinian independence, and Foreign Minister Timerman came out a few days ago against the bombardment of Gadhafi's army."

"As opposed to the government's declared policy and its determination to bring the Iranians involved in the attacks to justice, the exact opposite is taking place secretly," Eliaschev said, adding, "I and others like me believe Timerman was chosen by President Kirshner, first as Argentina's UN ambassador and then as foreign minister, among other reasons because he does not hide his Jewishness and his relations with the Jewish community, and therefore can be a 'fig leaf' for her policy."

Argentina's prosecutor general, Dr. Alberto Nisman, said yesterday: "I do not rule out the possibility that further arrest warrants will be issued against Iranian individuals." He called the idea of halting the investigations "ridiculous."

In an interview with the Jewish News Agency, posted on the website of the local Jewish community, Nisman discounted the credibility of the Iranian document on which the Perfil report was based.

A Jewish community leader who spoke anonymously said the community was shocked, saying: "If this is true, it would be a new level of hypocrisy."