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June 17, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 982

The AMIA Bombing Affair: Joint Investigative Committee Agreement Not Ratified By Iran; Iranian Foreign Ministry Denies Argentina's Claims, Insists Iranian Officials Will Not Be Interrogated By Argentinean Judges; Majlis National Security Committee Member: 'The Argentinean Foreign Minister Did Not State The Truth'

June 17, 2013 | By A. Savyon and Yossi Mansharof
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 982

Introduction

On January 27, 2013, the governments of Iran and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), under which the two states are to establish a joint committee to investigate the 1994 bombing at the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center (AMIA), in which 85 people were killed. Following its investigation of the bombing, Argentina had accused seven senior Iranian officials of responsibility for the terror attack, among them Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi (who at the time were, respectively, the president of Iran and the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force). In 2007, INTERPOL issued arrest warrants for six of the seven, including Vahidi, and in March 2013 it announced that the warrants are still in force.[1] Also accused was Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in February 2008 in Damascus by a car bomb.

According to the Iranian website Asr-e Iran, the decision to establish a joint Iranian-Argentinean investigative committee is the product of contacts between the two countries that began in September 2012; until that point, Tehran had refused to hold any talks whatsoever with Argentina on the AMIA affair, stating that Iran had not been involved in the bombing.[2] Following the signing of the MOU, Alaa Al-Din Boroujerdi, head of the Majlis National Security Committee, stated that the agreement between the two countries was "a joint measure to discover the truth about the AMIA [incident]... that from the very beginning had been a Zionist plot designed to tarnish Iran’s international image."[3]

Under the MOU formulated by the two states, the investigative committee will comprise five experts in international law who are citizens of neither Iran nor Argentina.[4] Additionally, Iranian media outlets cited a French news agency report that stated that the agreement also gives the Argentinean judges who accompany these experts a single opportunity to interrogate the Iranian officials for whom INTERPOL issued warrants.[5]

Following the signing of the MOU, a disagreement emerged between the two countries over the issue of whether Argentinean investigators would be allowed to interrogate the Iranian officials linked to the affair. While the Argentinean parliament did ratify the MOU,[6] the Iranian Majlis began studying it at the end of February 2013, but to date still has not ratified it despite pressure from the Iranian Foreign Ministry.[7] In statements, Majlis representatives and media circles warned against any move that could harm Iranian sovereignty.[8]

The Argentinean Reading: Argentinean Judges Will Interrogate Iranian Officials In Tehran

On February 1, 2013, the website Asr-e Iran reported Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman’s assurance that within the framework of the agreement, Argentinean judge Rodolofo Kanikoba Koral, who had issued an arrest warrant for the Iranian suspects, and the Argentinean prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, would arrive in Tehran to gather testimony from the senior Iranian officials connected with the affair.[9] It should be emphasized that Nisman had previously accused Hizbullah and Iran in the affair, and had in May 2013 even called on INTERPOL to arrest the suspects in the bombing. Nisman also warned the Latin American countries that Iran was maintaining clandestine terror cells in their territories in order to carry out terror attacks similar to the AMIA attack, either by means of Hizbullah or without it.[10]

Timerman explained that "the new investigations may produce fresh testimony or new methods that can reopen this case." He said that the seven Iranian officials linked to the affair would respond to the judges’ questions in Tehran, and expressed his confidence that Defense Minister Vahidi would meet with the Argentinean judge based on a "promise that he [Timerman] received" and that Vahidi "would arrive at this meeting."[11]

Additionally, it was reported that during a discussion in the Argentinean parliament, Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner defended the agreement with Iran under which Argentinean judges would be able to interrogate the Iranians.[12]

The Iranian Reading: Argentinean Judges Will Not Be Permitted To Come To Iran

In response to the statement by the Argentinean foreign minister, then-Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denied, on a number of occasions, the Argentinean leaders' claims, and emphasized that Iranian officials would not be interrogated by Argentinean judges.[13]

Tehran Times: The MOU Is Devoid Of Content

Responding to domestic criticism of the agreement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry organ Tehran Times, which speaks for the Iranian regime, clarified how and why the document that it had signed with Argentina was devoid of content, did not legally bind Iran, and prevented foreign judges from interrogating Iranians on Iranian soil. The daily newspaper explained that such a meeting on Iranian soil could not take place before the committee had issued a report, and that even if committee members and the judges acting on Argentina’s behalf did convene in Tehran, Iranian law would take precedence over the committee's terms of reference. Since the suspected individuals have not been charged with anything by an Iranian judge, it said, no Iranian judge was entitled to interrogate them at all – a further reason why Iran need not be concerned by the agreement.

Additionally, the newspaper said, the suspected individuals were under no obligation to answer questions referred to them by the committee investigators, because Iranian law supersedes the investigators’ authority. Furthermore, it added, the MOU imposed no obligation at all upon the people who had been summoned for questioning to actually show up for that interrogation.

Below are the article’s main points:[14]

"...Over the past 19 years, the Iranian authorities have constantly insisted that the truth about this case should be discovered... Therefore, this agreement [MOU[ is strictly in line with the Iranian diplomatic position.

"....The MOU states that the commissioners 'should conduct a thorough review of the evidence related to each accused person" (Article 3). The commissioners, after having reviewed the evidence, 'will express views and issue a report' also containing recommendations in the 'framework of laws and regulations of both parties' (Article 4).

"The MOU also provides the possibility of questioning the accused persons at a meeting that will be held in Tehran with the participation of Iranian and Argentine judicial authorities, with the commissioners also present (Article 5). Some commentators have raised the concern that the executive power may have exceeded its limits and interfered with judicial issues by agreeing on this issue or that somehow this act may violate the rights of individuals.

"For several reasons, we don’t believe that the law or the rights of individuals have been violated. First of all, if the report shows – and we are sure it will – a lack of evidence for the accusations against innocent persons, they should be compensated, and by virtue of the MOU there is no need anymore for questioning these people because both countries have agreed that "they will take into account the recommendations [of the commissioners] in their future actions" (Article 4).

"This meeting cannot be held until the report of the commission is issued. Secondly, as the meeting will take place in Iranian territory, the law of Iran will prevail, and an Iranian judge shall preside over the meeting, but since the persons have not been charged by the Iranian judge, he will not be permitted to question them. Finally, it is clear that our diplomacy has taken into account the rights of individuals while negotiating this MOU.

"This is why it reads 'nothing in this agreement shall jeopardize the rights of individuals granted to them by law' (Article 8). According to Iranian law and the Iranian Constitution, Iranian nationals can only be summoned and questioned by a competent Iranian court based on firm evidence. By the same token, this MOU has created no obligation for the persons to attend this meeting, and they will have the right to decide to attend or not through their own free choice.

"As we see, the whole process devised by our diplomats more than anything else focuses on finding the truth. And that is the fact which our country has been insisting on about this case and other similar cases for all these years -- namely that the United States and the Zionist regime have been manipulating corrupt judges and weak politicians to serve their illegitimate political interests under the disguise of justice."

Majlis National Security Committee Member: The Argentinean FM Is A Jew And Seeks to Placate The Jews

Majlis National Security Committee member Avaz Heidarpour argued that "the Argentinean Foreign Minister did not state the truth, and his statement does not conform to the final agreement between the two countries that was aimed at winding up the AMIA affair. It must be taken into account that the Argentinean Foreign Minister is a Jew, and that he could have said this to placate the Jews, in contrast to what had been agreed upon between the two countries. As far as I know, in the framework of the last agreement between Iran and Argentina, [no] judge or prosecutor [from Argentina] is expected to arrive in Iran and interrogate Iranian officials...

"Under no circumstances will Iran ever allow an Argentinean judge and prosecutor in the [investigation] case to enter Tehran in order to meet with senior Iranian officials whom Argentina claims are culpable in this case."[15]

Majlis National Security Committee Member: The Judges Can Meet With Former Officials – But Not With Defense Minister Vahidi

In contrast with this position, another National Security Committee member, Ahmad Bakhshayesh, said that Iran should allow the visit and cooperate in this matter in order to close the case that has made Iran subject to various forms of pressure – including an attempt by Argentina to influence Tehran's relations with the rest of Latin America.

But Bakhshayesh also emphasized that there would be no interrogation of serving ministers – i.e. Defense Minister Vahidi. He said: "The [Iranians] whom the Argentineans claim are culpable in this case do not now hold government office, save for one [Vahidi] ... Therefore, there is no impediment to having the judge in the case meet with former Iranian regime officials who currently have no executive responsibility. This includes [Expediency Council Chairman] Hashemi Rafsanjani, [Supreme Leader Khamenei advisor] Ali Akbar Velayati, Mohsen Rezaei [who at the time of the AMIA bombing was IRGC commander in chief], and others, and they can also ask a few questions of former Iranian officials, and take testimony from them via videoconference...

"Contrary to the statement by the Argentinean foreign minister, there is no option for the judge in the case to meet with Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, because he is still active and bears official executive responsibility."[16]

Asr-e Iran: This MOU Is Just For Show

The Asr-e Iran website wondered whether the IRGC and the judicial authority would really agree to Iranian officials being judged by Argentinean judges, and raised the possibility that the MOU was just for show – that is, that it was being pursued by both Iran and Argentina out of a mutual desire to lay the issue to rest once and for all. The website also assessed that even if Iran were to be accused in the case, it was unlikely to accept the investigative committee's conclusions, let alone to extradite the accused to Argentina.[17]

*Y. Mansharof is a Research Fellow at MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iranian Media Project.

Endnotes:

[1] Buenos Aires Herald (Argentina), March 15, 2013.

[2] Asr-e Iran (Iran), January 27, 2013.

[3] The Iranian Majlis website icana.ir, January 28, 2013.

[4] The New York Times, January 28, 2013. At the agreement's signing ceremony, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said to Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, "Both countries are determined to discover the truth in the affair via judicial collaboration and with the help of independent judges, to be determined by the two countries." Argentinean President Cristina de Kirchner called it "an historic moment." Press TV, (Iran), January 27, 2013.

[5] Asr-e Iran (Iran), January 27, 2013.

[6] Press TV (Iran), February 22, 2013.

[7] Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi and then-Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called upon the Majlis to ratify the agreement; Press TV Iran, March 10, 2013. Also, the chargé d'affaires at the Iranian Embassy in Argentina, Ali Pakdaman, argued that the MOU had been ratified by the government and did not need ratification by the Majlis; however, Asr-e Iran argued in response that according to the MOU's text, it would be implemented only after ratification by by the parliaments of both countries; Asr-e Iran, Iran, May 21, 2013. On May 30, Asr-e Iran noted that the Majlis had still not ratified the agreement.

[8] See for example a letter by 17 Majlis representatives to Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, warning that the agreement with Argentina could damage Iranian interests; Mehr, Iran, February 26, 2013. Additionally, in a January 28, 2013 article the website Boltan News, which is close to Iranian intelligence circles, termed the MOU "Turkmanchai," alluding to the 19th-century agreement by which Russia coerced Persia to relinquish regions in the Caucasus, and called for the MOU be abrogated because it contradicts Iranian foreign policy. It also warned that under the MOU, Argentinean judges would interrogate senior Iranian officials in this “artificial” affair. The article was subsequently removed, but was cited on another website. Rasadkhane.jamnews.ir (Iran), January 28, 2013.

[9] Timerman did not note when they were expected to arrive in Tehran.

[10] The New York Times, May 29, 2013.

[11] Asr-e Iran (Iran), February 1, 2013.

[12] Asr-e Iran (Iran), February 11, 2013.

[13] See for example, yjc.ir (Iran), February 11, 2013.

[14] Tehran Times, February 4, 2013.

[15] Fararu (Iran), February 1, 2013.

[16] Fararu (Iran), February 1, 2013.

[17] Asr-e Iran (Iran), February 1, 2013.

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