Argentina and Iran to discuss 1990s bombings

UNITED NATIONS Tue Sep 25, 2012 6:50pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran and Argentina have agreed to a meeting to discuss two 1990s attacks on Jewish targets in Buenos Aires that were allegedly sponsored by the Islamic Republic, Argentina's president said on Tuesday.

Argentine courts have accused Iran of sponsoring a 1994 attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish center that killed 85 people.

That assault came two years after a group linked to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in the Argentine capital, which killed 29. Tehran has denied links to either attack.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, said that after years of mostly fruitless diplomacy Iran had extended the offer to have a meeting last week.

Fernandez said the discussions would take place at the foreign minister level on the sidelines of the annual gathering of U.N. member states. Iran "wants to cooperate and collaborate over the investigation" of the attacks, she said.

An Iranian representative to the United Nations did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request from Reuters to confirm that a meeting would take place.

Iran has vehemently denied any role in the bombings for the past two decades, and it was unclear whether its decision to agree to a meeting now was related to mounting international pressure over its nuclear program.

Speculation over a possible Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations has increased in recent months. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also come under fire recently for anti-Israeli rhetoric, including his statement on Monday that Israel will be "eliminated.

Under sanctions and increasingly isolated due to its nuclear program, Tehran has few allies and needs friends. Argentina is also on the 35-nation board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, where Iran's nuclear program is a key issue.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported in December, citing U.N. diplomats, that Argentina has quietly explored closer relations with Iran. The countries have seen growing trade ties, with Iran one of the biggest buyers of Argentine corn.

Nevertheless, Fernandez was careful to say that she would consult victims of the bombings during any talks - highlighting the political sensitivities she faces in Argentina, which is home to Latin America's largest Jewish population.

She also reiterated a previous offer to have courts in a third-party country investigate the bombings.

"I must tell you I expect results from this meeting," she said.

(Editing by Jackie Frank, Christopher Wilson and Cynthia Osterman)

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