Buenos Aires: Argentina`s government on Sunday described as "very positive" an Iranian offer to cooperate in a probe of this South American nation`s worst terrorist attack.
Argentines have long suspected high-level Iranian diplomats were involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
Argentina persuaded Interpol to issue warrants for the arrests of Iran`s current defence minister and other top officials, and President Cristina Fernandez has demanded in United Nations speeches for years that Iran deliver the suspects to Argentine justice.
Iran`s Foreign Ministry has rejected the Argentine position and did so again in a statement on the case on Saturday, but at the same time its Foreign Ministry also said the Islamic republic was ready to begin a dialogue to help solve the crime.
Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said on Sunday that Argentina has yet to receive a formal communication on the offer from Iran, but that if reports from Iran`s official media are correct then "this would be an unprecedented and very positive advance from the Iranian authorities”.
Monday is the anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, which remains unsolved. And despite the insistence of the Argentine government that Iran turn over the suspects, Jewish groups in Argentina and Israel have worried openly that Argentina could warm up to Iran for political reasons that have nothing to do with the case.
The Iranian statement said it condemns terrorism, expresses sympathy for the victims` families and wants to help investigate the attack.
But it also accused Argentine prosecutors of unfairly accusing Iranian citizens and said it has a duty to defend them. Iran also said it would issue a report soon on what it calls Argentina`s "unfair process" toward Iranian citizens.
On Saturday, Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman dismissed the offer as empty words unless Iran hands over its citizens. Nisman`s theory is that the bombing was organised by a group of Iranian diplomats and government officials including the current Iranian defence minister, Ahmad Vahidi.
"If the Iranians and their government are ready to cooperate, they should do it once and for all and in the only way possible: handing over all those accused by the Argentine justice system of this terrible terrorist act and stop making empty declarations that never go anywhere," the prosecutor said.
Vahidi recently visited Bolivia despite the Interpol warrant for his arrest, touching off criticism of Bolivian officials. Bolivia`s Foreign Ministry formally apologised for failing to act on the warrant.
Argentina`s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, promised Argentina`s Jewish community that it would send a full report on the Jewish centre attack as well as a bombing two years earlier that killed 29 people and destroyed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.