July 31, 2010
Argentina-Iran Foreign Relations
Argentina has been broadly supportive of West-backed efforts to ensure that Iran is not clandestinely developing a nuclear weapon, with Buenos Aires voting in favor of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1694 (June 2006), which demanded Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment and adhere to International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. Argentine Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Garcia Moritan explained the vote saying that, "all countries must subject their nuclear facilities to IAEA monitoring and comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." Argentina has stated that it supports every country’s right to peaceful nuclear technology, as long as it complies with IAEA requirements.
Despite Argentina’s current objections to Iran’s nuclear program, in the 1980s and 1990s the country supplied Iran with nuclear materials, disregarding Washington’s protestations. During this time, Argentina modified an Iranian reactor so that it could utilize lower-enriched (20%) uranium and provided the Islamic Republic with 120 kilograms of fuel. In 1992, interaction in the nuclear sector was disrupted when the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires suffered a deadly terrorist attack, which the Argentine government later blamed on Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Although the attack did little to foster bilateral relations between Argentina and Iran, the two countries continued to negotiate trade deals. Ties between the two countries were effectively frozen, however, after a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital was bombed on July 18, 1994, leaving 85 dead.  The Argentina accused Iran of more directly supporting this attack and issued arrest warrants for several Iranian officials. Since 1994, Argentina has been an outspoken critic of Iran’s nuclear program and all nuclear materials trade between the two countries has ceased.
Despite the negative tenor of relations with Argentina over the past decade and a half, Iran has nevertheless floated the idea of accepting nuclear fuel once again from the South American country. On November 2, 2009, the Iranian government noted in a statement to the IAEA that Tehran is “interested in buying [nuclear fuel] from any supplier, including Argentina." Argentina has thus far been unreceptive to the Iranian suggestion.
For most of the period since the terrorist bombings that Argentina experienced in the 1990s, trade relations with Iran remained low. Commercial activity never ceased entirely, however, and by 2008 bilateral trade had soared to $1.2 billion, dramatically overshadowing the previous years’ $30 million. The expansion of trade ties follows an overall regional trade ‘offensive’ by Iran in recent years. International Monetary Fund (IMF) data analyzed by the Latin Business Chronicle indicates that that Iran-Latin American trade skyrocketed 209% in 2008, totaling $2.9 billion.
Demonstrating Iranian efforts in the economic sphere, in February 2008, Iranian Director General for Chamber of Cooperatives Mohammad Ramezani said that Iran was interested in broadening economic cooperation with Argentina. Ramezani claimed that "various [Argentine] cooperatives in different businesses are now operating in Iran and we are encouraging them to enter the export markets which will have positive impacts on the country's revenue. We support [the] export of non-oil commodities." The director general also said that Iran was also willing to share its experience in agriculture and fishing with Argentina. In response, Argentine Charge d'Affaires Mario Quinteros noted that his country was indeed interested in expanding bilateral trade with Iran.
Although the two countries have witnessed a profound uptick in trade ties, in November 2008 a number of Argentine papers reported that the country was considering suspending its commercial trade with Iran due to disagreements over the investigation of the 1994 Buenos Aires terrorist attack. The Argentine Ministry of Justice later claimed that it had never made comments to such an effect, but the ongoing investigation demonstrates that political differences are still possibly hindering the development of trade relations.
In late May 2009, Israeli news website Ynet obtained a detailed dossier drafted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Iran’s activities in South America. The report, which is based on information gathered by military and diplomatic sources around the world, both Israeli and foreign, claimed that Iran had begun its ‘infiltration’ of Latin America as early as 1982. The Foreign Ministry report stated that “since [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, Tehran has been promoting an aggressive policy aimed at bolstering its ties with Latin American countries with the declared goal of ‘bringing America to its knees.’” The report suggests that pro-US countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, which receive aid from Venezuela (a regional partner of the Islamic Republic), may also be subject to Iranian influence. The report specifically noted Argentina’s rapidly increasing trade relations with Iran.
In late March 2010, the head of the Iran-Argentina Parliamentary Friendship Group, Seyed Hossein Hashemi, urged the two countries to work to further expand bilateral economic ties. According to Hashemi, "the Islamic Republic of Iran as a country with competent capabilities [and] is willing to raise the level of its exchanges with Argentina in industrial and technical arenas.” He also expressed interest in a further increase in economic cooperation between the two nations.
While Iran has worked to cultivate friendly relations with many of Argentina’s neighbors, based on growing bilateral trade and public messages of support, Argentina has spoken out against Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and has sanctioned Iranian-funded Hezbollah. Argentina holds Hezbollah responsible for a 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina that killed 29 people. In response to the bombing, the Argentine government expelled several Iranian officials working in Argentina for alleged involvement in the attack. In 1994, Buenos Aires suffered yet another terrorist attack, this time on a Jewish community center. Argentina has accused Iran of playing a role in the attack and later issued arrest warrants for several Iranian leaders, including then-Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Undoubtedly, the two bombings have been a considerably damaging factor in bilateral ties. While the recent expansion of economic interaction has demonstrated that the harm caused by the attacks is, in a certain sense, surmountable, political relations have yet to see such a recovery. In 2007, Iran responded to Argentina’s accusations of Iranian involvement in the incidents by summoning five Argentine nationals to appear in court, charging them with orchestrating a “scenario to implicate Iran” in the attacks.
In January 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid an official visit in to several of Argentina’s neighbors, including Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Demonstrating the depths to which relations had fallen, not only did Argentine President Nestor Kirchner decline to schedule a meeting with the Iranian leader, he in fact canceled plans to attend Ecuadorian President Raphael Correa’s inauguration after Ahmadinejad announced plans to attend the ceremonies. A year later, in September 2008, Argentina called on Iran to extradite five former officials to stand trial for the ’94 bombings. Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, Kirchner’s successor, President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, asked “Iran to please allow Argentine justice to judge, in public and transparent trials with all the guarantees of a democratic system, those citizens who stand accused.”
The issue again surfaced in August 2009 when the Iranian government appointed Ahmad Vahidi to the position of defense minister. Argentina has accused Vahidi of involvement in the 1994 Jewish community center bombing and, in a statement following the appointment, described the decision as a "an affront to Argentine justice and the victims of the terrorist attack." Vahidi is the former commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’s al-Quds unit and, since 2007, has been the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant. Tehran responded to Argentina’s condemnation by saying that the South American country was “interfering” in Iran’s internal affairs.
In late April 2010, President Fernandez proposed a bill that would grant financial compensation to the victims of the 1992 Israeli embassy bombing. The legislation would not only compensate individuals injured during the attack, but also the family members of the victims of the bombing.
In an effort to counter Iranian advances in the region, in July 2009 Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman launched a ten-day tour of several Latin American countries. On the first day of a four-day visit to Argentina, Lieberman claimed that "Iran is the biggest sponsor of world terror organizations such as Hamas, (Islamic) Jihad and Hezbollah." Referencing Iran’s alleged involvement in terrorist activities in Argentina, Lieberman added that "people must understand that when terrorism penetrates a country, it does not only target [one group] in particular, but damages the entire country." The foreign minister indicated that although Iran has been more successful in improving ties with Latin America, Israel will seek to be more “proactive” and “want[s] to develop economic relations with countries in the region.” In November 2009, Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Argentina in hopes of strengthening the Israel-Argentina relationship with specific focus on the two countries’ mutual worries of Iran’s influence in South America.
In early March 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added an unplanned stop to Buenos Aires to her Latin American tour, during which “Iran [was] at the top of [her] agenda.” Clinton was initially scheduled to hold a meeting with President Fernandez while in Uruguay, however, in light of the change in her itinerary, instead met with the Argentine head of state in Buenos Aires.
In May 2010, Tehran hosted the 14th summit of the Group of 15, an international forum for prominent developing countries. Argentina, among 17 other nations, participated in the event.
Report by Daniel Santoro: “Government May Back Sanctions Against Iranian Nuclear Program," Clarin, October 29, 2006