Tue, Aug 25, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Key committee backs Iran defense chief nomination

AP , TEHRAN

The head of an influential committee in the Iranian parliament said he believed the nominee for defense minister would be approved despite accusations he was involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina, the official IRNA news agency reported on Sunday.

The backing of the foreign policy and national security committee raises the likelihood that General Ahmad Vahidi will be confirmed as defense chief in a vote in the full legislature, which is expected to be held next Tuesday.

His nomination last week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad angered Argentina, which accuses him of playing a key role in the Buenos Aires bombing. The US, which has sought to reach out to Iran under President Barack Obama, has also said Vahidi’s presence in the Cabinet would be disturbing.

The chairman of the parliamentary committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said the allegations “will not have any negative impact on the assessment” of the nominee, who is currently a deputy defense minister.

“Rather, it may increase his vote” in parliament, he said.

Boroujerdi rejected accusations that Vahidi was involved in the bombing.

Vahidi is one of five prominent Iranians sought by Argentina in the bombing, which killed 85 people. He was the commander of a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force at the time of the attack. The force is responsible for the Guard’s foreign operations.

On Friday, Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman said Vahidi is accused of “being a key participant in the planning and of having made the decision to go ahead with the attack against the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association.”

Nisman led the investigation into the July 18, 1994, bombing — Argentina’s bloodiest terrorist attack.

Argentine officials claim Iran orchestrated the attack and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah carried it out. The US and Israel also say Iran was behind the bombing, but Iran has denied it.

Interpol said in 2007 it would help Argentina seek the arrest of Vahidi and the four other wanted Iranians.

Among the others is Mohsen Rezaei, who ran against Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election and is a former leader of the Revolutionary Guard.

The other wanted Iranians are former intelligence chief Ali Fallahian; Mohsen Rabbani, former cultural attache at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires; and former diplomat Ahmad Reza Asghari.

Interpol had also sought Hezbollah militant Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria, in February last year.

Iran has repeatedly denied involvement in the bombing.

“Since 1994, the judiciary of Argentina has failed to provide a single piece of evidence against Iranian diplomats, officials as well as military people,” said Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi, according to IRNA.

Qashqavi said Argentina’s judiciary was under pressure from Israel. He also said Argentina’s statements on Vahidi were an unwelcome intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs.

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