BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Israel said on Friday it was greatly disappointed by Argentina’s decision to meet Iranian officials to discuss the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that Argentine courts accuse Tehran of sponsoring.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez ordered her foreign minister to accept Iran’s request for talks in New York this week, marking a sharp change in diplomatic policy and drawing criticism from Jewish leaders in Buenos Aires.
Ties between Argentina and Iran had been virtually frozen since authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese in 2007 over the bombing of the center, which killed 85 people. Iran denies links to the attack.
“The Israeli government received with great disappointment the news that Argentina accepted a meeting with Iran at the foreign ministerial level to advance on the issue of the investigation into the ... attack,” a statement from Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires said.
“The investigation report led by the special team at Argentina’s attorney general determined in detail and without any doubt that the decision to blow up the ... building was taken in the upper echelons of the Iranian government,” it added. “We hope (Argentina) keeps this evidence in mind during their meetings with the Iranians.”
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who met his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, in New York on Friday, expressed “surprise” at the embassy’s comments.
“Foreign Minister Lieberman and other members of the delegation indicated that they were not aware of the press statement,” the Foreign Ministry said, adding Timerman had been invited to visit Israel.
Iran and Argentina - home to Latin America’s biggest Jewish community - said on Thursday they would keep talking and that their goal was to “explore a legal mechanism that does not go against the systems of either Argentina or Iran.”
The detente is also likely to rile the United States as it seeks to isolate Iran over its nuclear program.
Western and Israeli sources have voiced concerns that Argentina might have lost its interest in pursuing investigations of the 1994 attack, as well as a bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people two years earlier.
The Islamic Jihad Organization, believed to be linked to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the 1992 bombing.
Reporting by Helen Popper; Editing by Peter Cooney