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Iran State Media Plays Down Argentina

November 10, 2006

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran’s state media paid scant attention Friday to an Argentine’s judge request for the arrest of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and other officials for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires.

State radio and television avoided mentioning the news for 24 hours, suggesting the government found it embarrassing even though it has always denied any involvement in Argentina’s worst terrorist attack.

On Friday evening, a television newscaster read a short item saying an Argentina judge had ``accused some Iranian officials of involvement″ in the bombing.

``Iran’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the arrest warrants as a decision influenced by Zionists,″ the newscaster said, referring to Israel.

On Thursday, Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral said he was seeking the detentions of Rafsanjani and eight other officials for the bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 200.

He said he was trying to get Interpol’s help, though he did not say whether he had issued arrest warrants. Interpol didn’t immediately return phone calls seeking comment Friday.

It was the second time that foreign judicial authorities have implicated Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989-97, in an act of terrorism. A German court ruled in 1997 that the killing of three Iranian Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant in 1992 was carried out with Rafsanjani’s knowledge.

The Argentine judge was also seeking the arrests of former intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, five other Iranian officials and a former Lebanese Hezbollah security chief for external affairs.

The Iranian TV report said an Argentine judge had indicted ``the head of the Expediency Council″ _ Rafsanjani’s current position _ and did not identify any of the other eight people accused.

On Thursday, Iran’s charge d’affaires in Buenos Aires said the judicial case was ``fraught with irregularities″ and politically motivated. Mohsen Baharvand said his government would oppose efforts to detain Rafsanjani and the other Iranians.

Conservative and moderates in Tehran said the warrants were driven by politics.

``It means the Israelis are seeking to put greater pressure on Iran in the hope that there will be a global unity against Iran,″ the editor of the moderate newspaper Mardomsalari, Hamid Reza Shokouhi, said in an interview.

Vahid Haghi, a columnist at the conservative newspaper Rah-e-Mardom, said the indictments were linked to U.S.-led efforts to impose U.N. sanctions on Iran for its contentious nuclear program.

Argentine investigators say the cultural center was attacked by a suicide bomber who detonated an explosives-packed van in front of the building. They say the Iranian government orchestrated the attack and Hezbollah carried it out.

Israeli Ambassador Rafael Eldad told Argentine television his government was satisfied by what he saw as a ``very significant″ development and hoped it would ultimately lead to breakthroughs in solving both Argentine bombings.

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