Washington Bureau

08.05.13

State Department Ordered Review of Iranian Terror Activity in Latin America

Following a report by a leading Argentinian prosecutor, the State Department has decided to reexamine its own assessment of Iran’s growing infrastructure to support terrorist activities in Latin America.

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President-elect Hassan Rouhani waves as he attends a press conference in Tehran on Monday. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty)

“For the first time in the Argentine and world judicial history, it has been gathered and substantiated in a judicial file, evidence that proved the steps taken by a terrorist regime, the Islamic Republic of Iran, to infiltrate, for decades, large regions of Latin America, through the establishment of clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents which are used to execute terrorist attacks when the Iranian regime decides so, both directly or through its proxy, the terrorist organization Hezbollah,” wrote Alberto Nisman in his 500-page May report on Iran’s Latin America strategy.

Nisman was the original prosecutor assigned to the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), which he contends was carried out by Hezbollah with Iranian government support. Iranian involvement in Latin America extended to several other plots as well, including a 2010 attempt to attack JFK airport in New York, a plot that was thwarted by U.S. law enforcement, according to his report.

In January, Argentina and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a “truth commission” to investigate the AMIA bombing, a move seen by the U.S. government and lawmakers as unlikely to get to the bottom of the attack that killed 85 and injured over 300.

Sens. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) wrote in a July 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that the commission would “only serve to whitewash Tehran’s crimes.” The senators also criticized the Argentinian government’s decision not to allow Nisman to come to Washington to testify before a congressional committee.

The State Department issued its own report on Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere in May, a report that was mandated by Congress but was panned as poorly written and seeming to downplay the Iranian role in the region by lawmakers and experts.

“There was a reasonable expectation that the State Department would draft a thorough and thoughtful report in response to legitimate concerns that Iran and its proxies maintain influence throughout our hemisphere,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. “Unfortunately, the State Department delivered a dismissive report that lacked the depth and seriousness that this very important national security issue warrants.”

“The people who wrote this report did not … consult the people who would have the information,” the Washington Institute for Near East Studies’ Matthew Levitt testified. “Those people both in the [State] Department, and elsewhere, were quite upset that they were not properly consulted.”

In an August 1 letter to Kirk, the State Department said that in light of the Nisman report, they were now reevaluating the information in their highly criticized report.

“The Nisman report was made public after our report was completed, so we asked the intelligence community to evaluate the information in the report on a priority basis,” the letter stated. “In addition Embassy Buenos Aires reached out to Mr. Nisman—a regular contact—to ensure we fully understand his points and have the most up-to-date information he can share with us.”

Lawmakers close to the issue welcomed the State Department’s latest move but pledged to monitor the administration’s handling of the Iranian-Latin American terrorism connection going forward.

"I am encouraged Secretary Kerry is making this a priority issue and I look forward to working with him to implement a comprehensive multilateral strategy to counter Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere,” Kirk told The Daily Beast.