At the request of Iran, the Argentinean and the Iranian Foreign Ministries agreed to hold a dialogue about improving their estranged relationship at the UN General Assembly in September. These two countries have had chilly relations since the Argentinean justice system found Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, to be the main culprits responsible for the deadly attacks on the Jewish Community Headquarters (AMIA) in July 1994 that left 85 people dead and hundreds of others wounded. In 1992 a similar attack, presumably orchestrated by Iran, took place against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. In both attacks, most victims, (with the exception of four Israelis trapped in the Embassy), were Argentinean civilian citizens.
As a result of the dialogue in New York, three meetings took place between the Argentinians and the Iranians this past October in. While each nation’s strategic goals have never been disclosed to the public, the Argentinians defined the meetings as “very positive” but provided no explanation to justify such a claim.
Interestingly enough, after the meetings with the Argentinians, the Iranians issued a statement declaring their innocence regarding the 1992 and 1994 attacks against Jewish targets in Buenos Aires. However, this is not particularly surprising; Iran continues to mislead the entire world with its public willingness to dialogue over its nuclear program. Likewise, the Iranians have refused, so far, to even acknowledge that they are trying to develop a military nuclear capability.
Nobody would have seriously thought that the Iranians were going to acknowledge their role in the terrorist attacks in Argentina or agree to extradite those accused by the Argentinean justice ministry of having been complicit in the attack. Entertaining those thoughts is particularly ridiculous when the current Iranian Minister of Defense, Ahmad Vahidi, is himself one of the accused. Furthermore, Mr. Vahidi, by virtue of his own position, has control over Iran’s regular armed forces, and, most importantly, the Revolutionary Guards, who at the same time oversee Iran’s terrorist operations abroad.
Another key accused is Moshne Rabbani, a cultural attaché in Argentina during the AMIA attack and now in charge of expanding Iran’s and Hezbollah’s recruitment and training of operatives in Latin America.
All of these factors make the success of these bi-lateral negotiations an almost impossible task. The question is, what prompted the initiation of this dialogue and what did each country hope to gain?
One possible objective can be explained by common sense: Iran is isolated and economically damaged by international sanctions. Argentina has, however, already increased its level of trade with Iran, despite the AMIA case. By 2008 bilateral trade between Argentina and Iran had dramatically increased from $30 million to $1.2 billion as part an Iranian trade offensive. Furthermore, according to Jaime Daremblum of the Hudson Institute, Argentina and Brazil are responsible for 96% of Latin American exports to Iran.
If Iran’s goal were to merely increase trade, it would not need to establish a dialogue with Argentina over the AMIA case, which is a hot potato for them, anyway.
Perhaps the explanation might be found in other, more ideological reasons.
Argentina has established a very strong alliance with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who is Iran’s closest ally after Syria. The alliance between Cristina Kirchner and Hugo Chavez is not only a relationship based on the convenience associated with Chavez’s oil and debt relief generosity; it is also an ideological and symbolic alliance that ties their political fates together, as Kirchner views Chavez as a symbol of the left’s strength and legitimacy in the region. It is no wonder that the Venezuelan National Electoral Council’s announcement of the Venezuelan elections was broadcasted live in Argentina in all the TV networks controlled by the government.
Of course, for the extreme left associated with the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance, Iran is a symbol of anti-Americanism and anti-Western resistance. Increasingly, the moderate left has also flirted with Iran: Brazil went out of its way to try to cut a deal on Iran’s nuclear program mostly in favor of Iran; Uruguay (another moderate left-wing government that sympathizes with Chavez but is not officially a member of the Bolivarian Alliance) sent a Congressional delegation to Iran more for symbolic and political objectives than for commercial reasons.
Kirchner has often said that her government is an active part of the struggle of Latin America against Western corporate interests. It is against this background that Kirchner might have been susceptible to the pressure of the environment that she, herself, helped create. Thus, reconciliation with Iran would place Argentina in full ideological harmony with the Bolivarian Alliance.
The expanding status of Iran as a political symbol of the Bolivarian Alliance’s anti-Americanism and the legitimacy Iran has gained in the non-Bolivarian left is a dangerous development.
Argentina’s motivation to seek reconciliation with Iran might well be motivated by this Bolivarian euphoria and left wing triumphalism that has turned more regional.
As pointed out in my last article, the governments of Brazil and Argentina, even more so than other Latin American countries, view the power of the left as a victorious regional movement that transcends national experiences. The Left is defined in the abstract and there is no distinction between the social democracies of the moderate left and the authoritarian elected governments of the Bolivarian Alliance.
Most likely, these Argentinean-Iran talks will benefit Iran. While the countries of the West are trying to isolate it, many Latin American countries are doing just the opposite. The Kirchner government, despite its declared sympathy with the victims of the terrorist attacks, does not like to be told what to do, particularly, not by the Americans or the Israelis. This was made clear by the Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman a few months ago when rumors about the possibility of such dialogue began to surface. For Argentina is a declaration of independence from the dictates of the giant of the North. For Iran, it could be a major political and moral victory.
Against this background it would behoove the United States Administration to closely monitor the Argentina-Iran dialogue.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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