BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina said on Sunday it had agreed with Iran to establish a “truth commission” in a bid to resolve the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that Argentine courts accuse the Iran of sponsoring.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez agreed to open talks with Tehran on the attack last year in a sharp change in diplomatic policy that irked Israel and drew criticism from Jewish leaders in Buenos Aires and the United States.
Fernandez said foreign ministers from Argentina and Iran had signed a memorandum of understanding during a meeting in Ethiopia.
The accord establishes a truth commission made up of foreign legal experts “to analyze all the documentation presented to date by the judicial authorities of Argentina and Iran,” Fernandez said in a series of Twitter messages.
Fernandez, who has close ties with other Latin American leaders who are on good terms with Tehran, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, hailed the agreement as historic.
The five commissioners will be jointly nominated and will not be residents of Argentina or Iran, according to a document posted on Fernandez’s Facebook page.
After analyzing the evidence, “the commission will give its vision and issue a report with recommendations about how the case should proceed within the legal and regulatory framework of both parties,” according to the agreement.
It also outlines plans for Argentine legal officials to meet in Tehran to question “those people for whom Interpol has issued a red notice.”
“For the first time, it will be possible for suspects identified by Argentina’s justice system to be questioned by the judge and prosecutor in the case,” Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said in a statement.
In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese in the bombing of the center, which killed 85 people. Iran denies links to the attack.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is among the Iranian officials sought by Argentina, which is home to Latin America’s largest Jewish community.
Western and Israeli sources have voiced concerns that Argentina may have lost its interest in pursuing investigations of the 1994 attack, as well as the 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.
Fernandez said the accord, which must be ratified by Congress, showed Argentina “would never let the tragedy (attack) become a chess piece in the game of wider geopolitical interests.”
“Dialogue (is) the only way to resolve conflicts between countries, however severe they are,” she said via Twitter.
Reporting by Guido Nejamkis; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Bill Trott