BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The Argentine prosecutor who accuses former Iranian officials of masterminding the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center says hosting a trial on neutral ground could help break the deadlock in the case.
President Cristina Fernandez suggested last month that Iran nominate a third country in an effort to persuade the Islamic Republic to hand over the suspects, saying that would help reassure them they would get a fair trial.
Iran denies any involvement in the bombing, which killed 85 people, and the government has not responded to Fernandez’s suggestion.
Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who has requested the extradition of the Iranians, said the proposal could help advance the case and put pressure on Tehran to respond.
“What the president proposed is appropriate because it’s a way to unblock the issue,” Nisman told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
“Regardless of how much hope we can have over what Iran’s response will be, they are left with less and less room for maneuver. Every time it will become harder for Iran not to respond.”
No one has been convicted of carrying out the bombing on the AMIA Jewish Center despite a lengthy investigation marked by judicial misconduct and charges of a government cover-up.
Argentine, Israeli and U.S. officials have blamed the bombing on Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Iran.
Nisman said evidence gathered by Argentine authorities and used as a basis for arrest warrants showed the bombing plot was hatched by top Iranian officials, including former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, during an August 14, 1993, meeting in the city of Mashhad.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is also among officials accused of being behind the attack. Nisman said prosecutors suspect that attack was in retaliation for Argentina’s decision to cancel contracts to supply nuclear technology to Iran in the 1980s and 1990s.
Nisman said Vahidi and other officials enjoyed diplomatic immunity, which complicated efforts to bring them to justice despite Interpol arrest warrants.
“The evidence is solid. It has passed through the instances of a prosecutor, a judge and Interpol,” he said, adding that they had testimony from former Iranian officials including former President Abolhassan Banisadr -- Iran’s first elected president after the 1979 revolution.
Nisman also called on the international community to cooperate with his probe and bring the accused to justice.
“The issue here exceeds a prosecutor, a president or a country,” he said. “The international community as a whole must demand Iran accepts this and delivers them so they can go on trial. It’s the best way to show the innocence they claim.”
No one at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires could immediately be reached for comment.
The AMIA bombing occurred two years after an explosion destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and killed 29 people. Neither attack has been solved.