The report by Argentine prosecutors in support
of the arrest warrants just issued for seven former Iranian officials for the
1994 terror bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires reveals that
Argentina was continuing to provide Iran with low-grade enriched uranium and
the two countries were in serious negotiations on broader nuclear cooperation
when the bombing occurred.
The new revelations on Argentine-Iranian relations in the Oct. 25 report by
prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcello Marquez Burgos undermine the official
argument that Iran's top leaders were motivated to order the bombing by Argentina's
decision in 1992 to cut off its supply of nuclear materials to Iran. The new
information underlines the fact that Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials
still viewed Argentina as willing to cooperate with Iran on the sensitive subject
of nuclear technology, despite U.S. pressures to end that cooperation.
The arrest warrants for former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and six
other former top Iranian officials were issued only after the United States
had applied diplomatic pressure, according to a Nov. 3 report by Marc Perelman
in the Jewish daily Forward. Perelman also reported that the George W.
Bush administration intends to cite the indictment as part of its campaign to
get Russia and China to support a Security Council resolution on sanctions against
The main theory about Iran's motive for ordering the bombing of the headquarters
of the Jewish organization AMIA on July 18, 1994, which killed 85 people, is
that Iran wanted to retaliate against Argentina for its decision to cut off
exports of nuclear materials. That motive was asserted by former Iranian intelligence
officer Abdolghassem Mesbahi in a 2002 deposition and repeated in a report by
the Argentine intelligence service, SIDE, in September 2002.
A related theory advanced by the prosecutors is that Iran was angry at the
government of Carlos Menem for realigning its foreign policy more closely with
that of the United States, for example, by sending warships to the Persian Gulf
during the U.S. war there in 1991.
But the prosecutor's report shows that Argentina never completely terminated
its nuclear cooperation with Iran, and that the Iranian and Argentine nuclear
organizations that had negotiated the original contracts were negotiating on
restoration of full cooperation on all three agreements from early 1992 through
The report identifies three distinct agreements reached between Argentina and
Iran in 1987-88: the first involved help in converting a nuclear reactor in
Tehran so that it could use 20 percent enriched uranium (i.e., low-grade uranium,
which cannot be used for weapons production) and indicates that it included
the shipment of the 20 percent enriched uranium to Iran. The second and third
agreements were for technical assistance, including components, for the building
of pilot plants for uranium dioxide conversion and fuel fabrication.
The indictment shows that the United States put strong pressure on the Menem
government to terminate all nuclear cooperation with Iran. In December 1991,
according to the detailed account in the report, the U.S. embassy in Buenos
Aires informed Argentina's foreign ministry that the United States could not
accept the continuation of the contracts on nuclear cooperation with Iran. In
January, Argentina announced the suspension of the shipments of nuclear materials
But the report also documents the fact that Iran did not take the suspension
as final or anticipate an end to the other contracts on nuclear technology.
According to a Feb. 10, 2002, cable from the Argentina's ambassador in Iran,
an Iranian foreign ministry official reaffirmed to him the "priority"
that the Islamic Republic placed on nuclear technology transfer from Argentina
and said the foreign policy positions taken by Argentina with which Tehran did
not agree such as sending warships to the Persian Gulf "apparently
did not alter the pragmatic attitude held by Argentina."
On Feb. 26, according to the account, the director of the American department
of Iran's foreign ministry "emphasized the need to reach a solution to
the problem that would avoid damage to other contracts." Thus Iran was
signaling its hope of finding a negotiated solution that could end the suspension
and maintain the other contracts with Argentina as well.
Less than three weeks after that Iranian bid for negotiations, on March 17,
2002, a bomb blast destroyed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 26
people. Argentina, the United States, and Israel have long maintained that Iran
was responsible for both that bombing and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA headquarters.
But it seems unlikely that Iranian leaders would have ordered or knowingly
supported any terror bombing in Buenos Aires just when they were concerned with
nailing down an agreement to protect Iran's important interests in relations
The report goes on to present new information that also appears to rule out
an Iranian role in the 1994 AMIA bombing. It confirms that Menem canceled the
second and third nuclear technology contracts with Iran but not the first contract
involving the low-enriched uranium.
The prosecutors' report further reveals that after the Menem decision, Iran
and Argentina entered into serious negotiations aimed at restoring full nuclear
cooperation. The general manager of INVAP, the Argentine firm that dominated
the National Commission on Atomic Energy, testified to investigators that during
1992, there were "contacts" between INVAP and the Atomic Energy Organization
of Iran (AEOI) "in the expectation that the decision of the national government
would be revised, allowing the tasks in the contracts to be resumed."
The report does not indicate what results the talks produced. But an article
in the Christian Science Monitor Feb. 18, 1993, quoted an Iranian official
saying that Iran was still purchasing low-grade uranium from Argentina and said
the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed that a shipment of low-enriched
uranium would arrive in Iran within a year.
From 1993 to 1995, according to the same INVAP official, the negotiations with
the AEOI continued, aimed at "reaching a definitive solution" to the
issues surrounding the two canceled projects. It was not until 1996, according
to the report, that Iran communicated its intention of taking legal action against
Argentina over the cancellation of the two nuclear technology contracts.
The new evidence on nuclear technology relations between Iran and Argentina
is a serious blow to the credibility of the central assertion in the indictment
that Rafsanjani and other former Iranian officials decided at a meeting on Aug.
14, 1993, to plan the bombing of AMIA. That assertion was based entirely on
the testimony of Iranian defector Abdolghassem Mesbahi, who was evidently unaware
of the continued uranium exports and continuing negotiations revealed in the
Mesbahi's credibility on Iran's alleged role in the bombings was also damaged
by his spectacular allegation that President Menem had received a $10 million
payoff from Iran to divert the investigation away from Iranian involvement
an allegation the defector later withdrew.
To square these diplomatic revelations with the charges against Iran, the prosecutors
quote what they call a "hypothesis" advanced by SIDE that Iran uses
"violence" in order induce "victim countries" to agree to
"negotiations convenient to Iran's interests." But they offer no further
evidence to support that theory.
The investigation of the 1994 bombing by the Argentine judiciary, which has
no political independence from the executive branch, has had little credibility
with the public, because of a bribe by the lead judge to a key witness and a
pattern of deceptive accounts based on false testimony.
(Inter Press Service)