LONDON — The United States pressed Argentina to end its investigation of Iranian complicity in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in which nearly 100 people were killed.
Western diplomatic sources said the administration of President Barack Obama urged Argentina on several occasions to either stop or limit the investigation into the bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. The sources said the U.S. appeals marked one of the demands by Iran for a reconciliation with Washington.
“Argentina had hard evidence against at least one Iranian leader, which prevented him from traveling abroad,” a source said.
A key Iranian suspect was identified as Ali Akhbar Velayati, foreign minister from 1981 until 1987, and deemed close to supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Velayati has been on the official wanted list of Interpol since 2007 and a subject of an international arrest warrant by Argentina.
“One of the first demands by Iran to the administration was that Argentina be pressed to drop the warrant,” the source, close to the Argentine leadership, said. “Within months, the U.S. followed up with a high-level meeting in which Argentina was asked to lay off.”
The sources said Buenos Aires eventually complied. In 2013, Argentina and Iran signed an agreement for a joint investigation of the AMIA bombing, deemed a cover-up by Buenos Aires.
On Jan. 18, a leading Argentinian prosecutor assigned to investigate an alleged government cover-up on AMIA was found shot to death in his home. The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, had been scheduled to appear in front of Congress and present evidence that President Cristina Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman shielded Teheran in connection with the bombing.
“[They] took the criminal decision of inventing Iran’s innocence to satisfy commercial, political and geopolitical interests of the Argentine republic,” a 289-page report by Nisman said.
It was not clear whether the report contained evidence of U.S. intervention in the alleged plot to clear the Iranians. The 51-year-old Nisman, appointed in 2005, had presented evidence that Iran sponsored the bombing, conducted by its main proxy, Hizbullah.
On Jan. 21, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Obama has become the leading defender of Iran. Sen. Robert Menendez suggested that the administration was coordinating with Teheran in efforts to block U.S. sanctions on Iran.
“The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Iran,” Menendez said. “And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization, when they’re the ones with original sin.”
For her part, Ms. Kirchner said Nisman was killed by opponents of the president. Earlier, officials asserted that Nisman committed suicide.
“I’m convinced that it was not suicide,” Ms. Kirchner said. “They used him when he was alive but then they needed him dead.”