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Will Iran thaw bring justice for AMIA victims?

Argentina and Iran have agreed to proceed with a joint investigation into the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman said after a Sept. 28 meeting in New York with the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Argentina has formally charged several former members of the Iranian government with planning the attack, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured in the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence since World War 2; Argentine prosecutors say the Lebanese organization Hezbollah supplied the suicide bomber who carried out the attack. 

Argentina and Iran signed a memorandum in January of this year agreeing to set up a Truth Commission that would probe the bombing. The Argentine Congress approved the pact in February, but until September the Iranian government hadn't given its formal approval. The two foreign ministers are to meet in Geneva in November to put the plan into action and to start creating the Truth Commission. Then Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman and Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral are expected to go to Iran to take testimony in the case.

The apparent progress in the AMIA investigation comes as relations seem to be improving between the US and Iran following the inauguration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in August. In late September the administration of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner formally asked US president Barack Obama to include the AMIA case in a dialogue which Iran and the US have agreed to start.

The AMIA investigation still faces a number of obstacles, and the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), the main body representing the country's large Jewish community, issued a statement on Sept. 28 saying Iran's approval of the joint investigation "brings no benefit." The Iranian government has consistently denied any Iranian involvement in the bombing, and it has a standing arrest warrant for prosecutor Nisman, which clearly would have to be removed if he is to travel to Iran. Some political factions in Iran reportedly oppose any deal on the AMIA case, despite Argentina's importance as a source of grain for the country. 

There are also problems with Argentina's investigation. Argentine political scientist Marcelo Falak wrote on Oct. 12 that Nisman has built a strong case for Iranian involvement but that he may have overreached in places. Falak stressed the importance of getting the US to make the investigation "one more condition presented to Iran in order to normalize its relationship with the international community. Only that would prevent Iran from delaying its obligations…and using the Truth Commission as a way to simply discredit the Argentine investigation." (Reuters, Sept. 28; La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 2, from correspondent; Buenos Aires Herald, Oct. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 13.

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