Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez waves to supporters after announcing a building project at the government palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday. / Eduardo Di Baia, AP
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - Argentina and Iran reached a breakthrough Sunday in the investigation of a Jewish center bombing that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires 19 years ago, agreeing to establish an independent international "truth commission" led by a jurist "with high moral standing and legal prestige" to examine Argentina's worst terrorist attack.
The commissioners will examine the evidence and recommend how to proceed "based on the laws and regulations of both countries." Then, commissioners and Argentine investigators will travel to Teheran to question the suspects.
"Historic" was how President Cristina Fernandez described the agreement signed Sunday in Africa by foreign ministers Hector Timerman and Ali Akbar Salehi.
A van loaded with fertilizer and fuel oil was exploded on July 18, 1994, leveling the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building. As with a separate attack that destroyed Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier, killing 29, it has never been solved.
Argentine prosecutors have formally accused six Iranians of coordinating the AMIA attack under orders from their government. Among them is Iran's current defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi. The Argentines have spent years seeking to interrogate them with the help of Interpol, but Iran's government has refused until now to make them available.
Previous Argentine probes resulted "only in failures and scandal, with a trial that ended up being a farce" after high-level officials were accused of covering up evidence and deliberately misdirecting investigators, Fernandez said in a series of tweets.
In contrast, this process, which needs legislative approval in both nations, provides a legal framework with due-process rights for the accused that could be a model for conflict resolution, Fernandez said, and it puts the dispute firmly in the hands of legal experts overseen by independent arbitrators.
She called it, "Historic, because never will we allow the AMIA tragedy to be used as a chess piece in a game of faraway geopolitical interests," she tweeted.
Jewish groups, however, made clear their discomfort at Argentina's efforts to improve relations with Iran despite the unresolved bombing case.
"It is a monumental step backward," Luis Czyzewski, who lost his daughter Paola in the bombing, told Argentina's Jewish News Agency on Sunday. "I think all the families will reject it and be as angry as I am." A description of the agreement by Iran's FARS news agency said years of Argentine investigations "have failed to advance the case or prove anything against Iran, indicating that Iran is innocent."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in October that once "investigations take place in an accurate and impartial manner, then the ground will be prepared for the expansion of ties between Iran and Argentina," the FARS report said.
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