Bolivia Throws Out Iran's Defense Minister
Bolivia on Tuesday said it had taken steps to ensure Iran's defense minister Ahmad Vahidi leave the country immediately, the Associated Press reports.
Vahidi is on an Interpol wanted list in connection to the bombing of the Jewish community center in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires in 1994 that left 85 dead and injured as many as three hundred.
Argentina believes Vahidi planned the attack on the seven-story Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AIMA) building 17 years ago and gave the final go ahead for the bombing.
Alberto Nisman, the lead prosecutor investigating the attack, contacted Interpol's offices in Bolivia to demand Vahidi's arrest as soon as Argentina became aware he was in South America.
But Vahidi -- who was invited to Bolivia by the country's Defense Ministry to attend a military ceremony in the city of Santa Cruz on Tuesday, in the presence of President Evo Morales -- was travelling on a diplomatic passport granting him immunity from arrest.
Bolivian officials instead told Vahidi he had to leave the country.
Jewish groups in Argentina were outraged by Vahidi's visit to a neighboring country. Guillermo Borger, president of the AIMA, described it as "a provocation" and "a joke".
"It is a mockery and an affront that a friendly country such as Bolivia receives a minister accused of masterminding an attack that left 85 people dead," he said.
At the time of the Buenos Aires bomb attack, Vahidi was the commander of a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force.
Iran has denied that any of its nationals were involved in the attack but since 2007 Interpol has had a "red notice" against Vahidi, informing its 187 member countries that Argentina is seeking his arrest.
Bolivia apologized to Argentina for its blunder in a letter that later appeared in the Internet via Twitter.
The letter characterized Vahidi's invitation as a "grave incident" and promised that "the government of Bolivia has taken the corresponding provisions to see to it that Ahmad Vahidi immediately leaves Bolivian territory."
The letter blamed the faux pax on Bolivia's Defense Ministry, which it said "did not know about the background of the case" and failed to consult with the rest of government.
Vahidi is understood to have left Bolivia on Tuesday night but it was unclear whether he had immediately returned to Iran.
The incident is a serious embarrassment for Bolivia's President Morales who has close ties with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner.
Kirchner, however, is reported to be willing to leave the bombing aside and suspend her nation's pursuit of those responsible in exchange for improved trade relations with Iran. Her predecessor, Carlos Menem, was investigated for obstructing what is, in Argentina, an uncomfortable investigation.
Bolivia announced last year it plans to build a nuclear energy plant with Iran's help, which has led to suspicions by Israeli and Western security officials that Bolivia may be supplying uranium for Iran's nuclear program.