Former Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman knew that Iran was responsible for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires even as he negotiated with the regime in Tehran, secretly-recorded telephone conversations released on Friday reveal.
The previously unknown recordings of conversations between Timerman and leaders of the Argentine Jewish community confirm what has long been suspected. While negotiating the infamous “Memorandum of Understanding” in 2013 aimed at setting up a joint commission with Iran to supposedly investigate the bombing, Timerman had no doubt that Tehran was behind the atrocity that claimed the lives of 85 people and injured hundreds more.
The conversations took place in 2012. In the first recording, Timerman is speaking with Guillermo Borger, the then president of the AMIA Jewish community organization. He attempts to persuade Borger to support the negotiations with Iran that would in due course lead to the signing of the Memorandum.
Borger: We don’t regard Iran as valid [as a negotiating partner].
Timerman: And who do you want me to negotiate with, Switzerland?
Borger: I will just say that Iran lies, is not credible and denies the Holocaust.
Timerman: But we don’t have anyone else to negotiate with […] Well, tell me who you want me to negotiate with?
Borger: I understand, I wish there was someone else to negotiate with.
Timerman: If there was someone else, they [the Iranians] wouldn’t have planted the bomb. So we are back to the beginning. Do you have someone else for me to negotiate with?
The second conversation is between Timerman and José Scaliter, the Vice President of the AMIA at the time:
Timerman: Eighteen years ago they [the Iranians] planted the bomb. You don’t tell me who I should negotiate with, you tell me who I shouldn’t negotiate with. What a smartass you are, so who do you want me to negotiate with?
Scaliter: The Prosecutor [Alberto Nisman, found dead in suspicious circumstances in January 2015] working on this case, who wasn’t appointed by us, carried out a serious and important investigation and says Iran did it.
Timerman: Great! Fantastic! So how do you want me to bring them [the Iranian fugitives to Argentina]. You never know what should be done.
It’s not clear who made the recordings or why they were leaked just now. Timerman himself just made a sudden reappearance on Twitter to complain that they were made in secret by Borger and that indeed seems the likeliest explanation. (Timerman did not, notably, claim that the recordings were fake, or that they distorted his views.) By the sound of the recordings, it seems that Borger and Scaliter simply put Timerman on the speaker in their office and recorded the conversations without mentioning that they were doing so.
Considering the track record of the previous government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom Timerman served, in publicly hounding those who crossed it, Borger and Scaliter may have wished to have a guarantee that their conversation was recorded faithfully. The recent election of Mauricio Macri as President, a completely unexpected outcome for Fernández de Kirchner and her allies, may have emboldened the AMIA leaders to leak the recordings now.
There may be others with secrets to reveal, now that they can do so without harassment from Fernández de Kirchner’s government. The mother of Alberto Nisman, the late federal prosecutor investigating the AMIA bombing, told a journalist in recent days that she has a digital copy of “all” of her son’s formal complaint against Timerman and Fernández de Kirchner over their deal with Iran, along with “all” the evidence he collected to support it.
It’s not clear whether Nisman, who was found dead in January 2015 hours before he was to present his complaint, would have had access to the recordings. As Scaliter pointed out in his conversation with Timerman, Nisman was working for the government and not AMIA, and in any case had access to other sources of information about the negotiations with Iran.
The revelation of these recordings confirms Nisman’s thesis that the Memorandum was a sham, designed to protect those guilty of the AMIA Massacre. The Argentine government, despite knowing that Iran’s responsibility was beyond doubt, agreed to let the murderers “investigate” themselves through an Orwellian “Truth Commission,” and led Iran to believe that simply signing the Memorandum would lead to Interpol dropping the arrest warrants against its citizens, which seems to have been Tehran’s initial if not principal motivation in negotiating the pact. As a result, trade relations between the two countries would flourish, allowing enormous sums to be made by Argentine officials in state-body-to-state-body deals free from market pressures or scrutiny, the preferred kirchnerista business model. Elsewhere on the recordings, Timerman speaks of the negotiations being a “great opportunity for Argentina.” It’s not difficult to imagine what kind of opportunity he had in mind and which Argentines he thought might benefit.
Every word spoken by the former Argentine government and its supporters in defense of the Memorandum has now been proven to be a lie – not that there was ever much doubt about that. As soon as her husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner died in October 2010, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could not wait to launch negotiations with Iran, hoping to bury the AMIA issue once and for all.
And the worst of it is that none of this should come as a shock. Shortly after Timerman’s appointment as Foreign Minister in 2010, I wrote this satire on his complaisant attitude to the Iranians on a blog sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. Looking back, it’s clear that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s handling of the AMIA case was, in fact, far worse than I imagined it was going to be.
For a more thorough look at the history of the AMIA attacks and Argentina’s shameful refusal to bring its perpetrators to justice, read Has Argentina Turned Against Its Jews?, written by the author for the October 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine.