Andres Oppenheimer

Argentina has crossed a line by making a sweet deal with Iran to jointly investigate a 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which according to Argentine prosecutors and Interpol was masterminded by top Iranian officials.

The deal seems to put Argentina fully within the Venezuelan-led club of Latin American countries that support some of the world's worst human rights offenders.

Until now, many of us had hesitated to put Argentina in that category, mainly because Argentina remains a democracy and differed with Venezuela on Iran. Despite pleas by Venezuela to put the AMIA case on the backburner, the late President Nestor Kirchner had supported Argentine court requests for the extradition of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, current Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and others in connection with the car bombing that left 85 people dead and about 300 wounded 19 years ago.

But now, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner seems to have changed course, breaking the biggest foreign policy stand that set Argentina apart from the Venezuela and Cuba.

Her agreement with Iran to create a joint "truth commission" to investigate the terrorist attack amounts to making a deal with a suspected killer to jointly investigate a murder, side-stepping the ongoing Argentine court investigation into the case, critics say.

"The idea of establishing a 'truth' commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht," says American Jewish Committee head David Harris.

Israel's Foreign Ministry has voiced its "astonishment and disappointment" at the deal. The U.S. State Department's top official in charge of Latin American affairs, Roberta Jacobson, told me in an interview that she is "skeptical that a just solution can be found" through the so- called Argentine-Iran "truth-commission."

Asked whether she now sees Argentina as fully aligned with Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, Jacobson told me: "I wouldn't make that leap yet. I certainly hope not. I hope that we will continue to work with the Argentines on lots of global issues, including counter-terrorism efforts."

Why is Argentina doing this? One theory is that it's a pre-emptive break with Western democracies in anticipation of a possible New York judge ruling next month that - if Argentina loses the case - could force Argentina to pay up to $10 billion to bond holders and drive the country into default.

Facing that prospect, Fernandez may have decided to cast her lot with Iran, Venezuela and their allies. Argentina's exports to Iran have tripled from $319 billion to $1.10 billion over the past five years, and Argentina may need to import more oil from Iran.

But most economists I talked to are skeptical about this motivation, saying that Iran wouldn't make a big difference in Argentina's economy.

A second theory is that Fernandez is acting under the influence of her close friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose narcissist-Leninist ruling style she seems to be increasingly copying. In recent months, she has, among other things, stepped up efforts to control the media and has nationalized Spain's Repsol oil company.

A third theory is that Fernandez sincerely believes she can untangle the AMIA investigation with Iran's cooperation. But critics point out that the Argentina-Iran "truth commission" is exactly what Iran has been demanding for years - a bi-national commission that over time will grab the headlines and supersede the Argentine courts' investigation.

At a meeting with Argentina's Jewish leaders, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Argentina's deal with Iran, which must be ratified by the two countries' parliaments, will not supersede the ongoing Argentine court investigation.

But critics counter that Timerman is the same official who in 2011 called Argentine journalist Jose Eliaschev a "liar" and "pseudo-journalist" for disclosing that Argentina was holding secret talks with Iran about the AMIA case - which is precisely what Argentina and Iran later confirmed.

My opinion: Argentina has crossed a line by making a deal with the prime suspect in the 1994 terrorist attack.

I hope I'm wrong about this, but the end result of this so-called Argentina-Iran "truth commission" will be a finding saying that a handful of low-level Iranian officials were involved in the case, which allows Iran's regime to claim it didn't have anything to do with it, and Argentina to claim it has solved the case.

That would amount to a big blow to justice, and an insult to the memory of the 85 Jews and non-Jews who died in the terrorist attack.







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