ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This week, we've been following the story of the mysterious death of a prosecutor in Argentina and the huge controversy it's caused there. Alberto Nisman was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people. He had linked that crime to Iran. But last week, he was found in his apartment with a bullet to the head. He had accused Argentina's president and others in her government of taking part in a cover-up. Well, now one of the central figures of the story, the foreign minister of Argentina, has spoken exclusively to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro by telephone and she joins us now. Lourdes, tell us about Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and why he's important in this case.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Yeah, Hector Timerman is the foreign minister, as you mentioned. He's also a prominent member of the Argentine Jewish community here, as was Nisman. Nisman named him in particular of carrying out a parallel secret diplomacy with Iran that was intent on shielding Iran from accusations that it was behind the 1994 bombing that was the worst terror attack in Argentine history. In particular, he said Timerman was trying to get five Interpol Red Notices canceled for five Iranian suspects in the case that Argentina wanted to interview. This is what he said.
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HECTOR TIMERMAN: I never ever in my life asked Interpol to do that.
SIEGEL: But why did he say Nisman said he was doing that and how does he respond?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, Nisman's accusation was that this was all a plot to get oil from Iran in exchange for wheat, that Argentina was going to sort of soft-pedal the Iran issue to get that deal done. This is a nation with a lot of energy problems, so that was the motive said Nisman. Timerman just denied that flatly. He said Iranian oil is too heavy for Argentina to process, so there's no motive for what Nisman alleged.
TIMERMAN: Argentina cannot use Iranian oil because it is a very heavy oil and we cannot process such a heavy oil.
SIEGEL: So he's saying that oil from Iran is too heavy to be used by Argentina. If indeed they weren't talking about oil, how does Timerman explain his talks with Iran? What were they talking about, according to him?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, he said he was trying to get access to the Iranian suspects. That his sole purpose in those negotiations, he says, was trying to get the two sides to talk. He says Iran doesn't allow extradition of its citizens, and Argentina does not allow trial in absentia. So this, he contends, was the only way to move forward in the case - to allow a judge, an Argentinian judge, to travel to Iran and interview those suspects. That, he says, was his sole purpose.
SIEGEL: And who does the Argentine foreign minister think was responsible for the bombing?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, let's remind everyone here - this is a bombing that 21 years later has still not been resolved. I asked him exactly that question, and he said he trusted Mr. Nisman's initial investigation that pointed to Iran, but he said this has to be judged in a court of law.
TIMERMAN: I cannot say that the Iranians are really guilty. I have to wait until the judge determines who is behind the attack.
SIEGEL: He's saying he cannot say the Iranians are guilty, he has to wait to see what a judge says. Do I have that right?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, that's exactly right. He did say that he did feel there was an Argentinian or local connection to the bombing in 1994 that had not really been investigated and that he felt should be.
SIEGEL: Now, the president of Argentina, de Kirchner, has come out and said that Nisman was murdered possibly by Argentine intelligence agents. What does Timerman, the foreign minister, say about Nisman's death?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, of course this is the central issue. He did not want to speculate, but he said he felt Nisman's death was being used to discredit the government. He accused the media group Clarin, which is an old foe of the Kirchner government, of adding to that. He also spoke at length about his own history of being persecuted under the dictatorship of the history of his family as defenders of human rights. His father was dissident journalist Jacobo Timerman. And so he said he would never obstruct a human rights investigation like the AMIA bombing because of his own personal history, and he left it at that.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Buenos Aires. Lourdes, thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
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