Argentina and Iran have agreed to establish a truth commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
The agreement creates an independent commission of seven judges -- none of whom will be from Argentina or Iran, though both governments will appoint one member each -- who, along with Argentine investigators, will eventually travel to Iran to question suspects about the car bombing that leveled the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, or Amia, building.
“Nearly 19 years after the Amia bombing, for the first time, a legal instrument to advance the knowledge and truth about the terrorist attack of July 18, 1994, has been established between Argentina and Iran under international law,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner wrote on her official Twitter account Sunday after the agreement’s signing.
“It guarantees the right to due process, a fundamental principle of international criminal law,” she added.
Argentine prosecutors have previously accused Tehran of plotting the attack and hiring militants from the Lebanese political group Hezbollah to carry it out, a charge which the Iranian government has denied.
In 2007, prosecutors named as a suspect the current Iranian Defense Minister Ahmed Vahidi, who commanded a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard at the time of the bombing, the BBC reported.
Argentina submitted a report to Interpol, which issued arrest warrants for the identified suspects, though Iran has refused to extradite any of those named in the case, claiming the warrants were issued based on false information provided by the U.S. and Israel.
“The U.S. and Israeli rulers accuse Iran of bombing a Buenos Aires Jewish center. ... But 18 years of effort have failed to advance the case or prove anything against Iran, indicating that Iran is innocent,” read an article from Iran’s state-run Fars news agency.
Despite the air of tension surrounding the case, Iran has been seeking to improve ties with Argentina and other governments in Latin America, according to Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.
“Outreach to Latin America is seen by the Iranian regime first and foremost as a means to lessen its deepening international isolation,” Berman wrote last year in Middle East Quarterly.
“Due to its favorable geopolitical climate -- typified by vast ungoverned areas and widespread anti-Americanism -- Latin America has become an important focus of this effort.”
The Israeli government also spoke out about the agreement, expressing disapproval over Iran’s involvement in the commission.
“We warned the Argentinians only a short while ago not to fall into the trap that the Iranians will set up for them,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said, Haaretz reported. “We are stunned by this news item, and we will want to receive from the Argentine government a complete picture as to what was agreed upon, because this entire affair affects Israel directly.”
Israel also encouraged Argentina to demand extradition of the suspects from Iran and secure compensation for the families of the victims.