EXCLUSIVE: IAEA expert details Argentina's early support of Iran nuclear program
Argentina was a quiet supporter of Iran's burgeoning nuclear program during the 1980's when the two nations were working to advance bilateral relations, Darío Jinchuk, an independent consultant for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and former Director of International Affairs at the Argentine National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA) told i24NEWS in an interview from Vienna on Friday.
Jinchuk detailed to i24NEWS the technical and commercial cooperation between Argentina and Iran during the infancy of Iran's nuclear program, which was restarted under the order of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The program had a clear objective: to obtain a military nuclear arsenal.
Khomeini's predecessor, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had originally commenced the sensible initiative during the Cold War as part of a US policy to counterbalance the expansion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
“The Iranian nuclear program started in the 50’s, as many other countries did, helped by the US policy known as ‘Atoms for Peace’, when President Eisenhower attempted to spread the pacific use of nuclear energy,” Mr. Jinchuk explained.
“With the help of the United States, Germany and France, [Iran's] first reactor was built. It was the first stage of the Iranian nuclear plan,” he added.
Jinchuk, a physician graduated from both the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that after being cut off from Western aid following the Islamic Revolution, Iran officially approached Argentina for contracts related to the nuclear fuel cycle and heavy water, as well as for help finishing its Bushehr nuclear power plant which had been bombed during the Iran-Iraq war.
“After the revolution all the foreign western aid stops and it’s then when Iran starts with an undeclared program, accepting the help of Abdul Qadir Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program,” Jinchuk explains.
According to Jinchuk, Qadir Khan was known for “transferring technology for non-peaceful purposes, in order to enrich high levels of uranium to manufacture bombs to Iran and Libya and other countries.”
“By the 1980’s, Iran was already a ‘medium development capacity’ country with an ambitious nuclear program for peaceful use,” Jinchuk stated.
"Iran officially approached Argentina in the 1980's, interested in the nuclear fuel cycle and heavy water, as well as helping to finish the Bushehr nuclear power plant. These were the main topics of talks between Argentina and Iran in the 1980's,” he recalled.
“There was a previous approach in the 1970's [under the Shah’s ruling]," he adds, describing a contract "between Iran and five individual Argentine scientists" who had been thrown out of Argentine institutions by the government.
"They gave expertise in a private capacity,” Jinchuk revealed.
Jinchuk declined to provide the identities of the five individuals or to give further detail, saying only that “now they are all dead, except one."
Iran and Argentina enjoyed a fruitful relationship long after the abrupt end of former Argentinian president Raúl Alfonsín's government in 1989 and the rise of Carlos Menem, a charismatic leader who would turn towards a pro-US foreign policy and encourage pro-market reforms, including privatizations, free enterprise and a smaller role by the state within the domestic economy.
Menem's approach led to Argentina's distancing itself from Shia Iran, reportedly under US pressure.
The three nuclear contracts were suspended, bringing to an abrupt end the era of Iran-Argentina nuclear relations and ushering in a new one marked by a string of terror attacks in the South American country.
In 1992, a suicide driver smashed into the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 22 people and injuring over 300 more.
Then, in 1994, the AMIA Jewish community center in the heart of the Argentine capital was bombed, killing 85 and injuring 300 others in the worst attack in the country's history.
To this day, local courts believe the two attacks were connected and perpetrated by Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.
A 500-page document written by prosecutor Alberto Nisman in 2006, suggested the cancellation of the nuclear agreements as one of the main reasons for the attacks.
Nisman would later be found mysteriously dead in his hotel room, days after filing a report accusing Argentine government officials of protecting high-ranking Iranian officials from prosecution over the AMIA bombing in exchange for oil and other trade benefits.
Jinchuk, given his first-hand knowledge and rank within Argentina's nuclear agency, was summoned to testify in the case before the prosecution.
"At the time of the AMIA bombing, we were in a period of negotiations with Iran over the suspension of those [nuclear] contracts. Iran was asking for big compensation and Argentina trying to pay as little as possible,” Jinchuk said.
Jinchuk was careful, however, not to draw a direct correlation between the attack and the annulment of the Iranian contracts.
“I don’t have a reliable information that allows me to say whether it was Iran, or if the reason for the attack was the suspension of the contracts," he said.
He said he was certain that at least during the first negotiations and instances, the country's mutual cooperation was for trade purposes.
“Argentina received about 5.5 million dollars for the contract for fuel for the research reactor; 10 million dollars for the purification plant, and 15 million dollars for the contract for the manufacture of combustible elements,” Jinchuk asseverated.
Another aspect of the agreement implied a technical exchange program under which “Iran sent some technicians and scientists for training to Argentina," Jinchuk said.
"This could not be done without the approval of the state," he insisted.
Before the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal signed between Iran and P5+1 countries, rumors of supposed clandestine program for transferring nuclear materials and technologies to Iran via Argentina and Venezuela.
The alleged scheme was said to originate in Argentina, with materials and technologies passed through Venezuelan Commander Hugo Chavez -- a close ally of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and via secret flights chartered to Iran.
“There were no technological transference from Argentina to Venezuela that could be ‘triangulated’. The only contacts with Venezuela was only for the selling of nuclear medicine, cobalt therapy equipments,” Jinchuk said of the supposed scheme.
US President Donald Trump de-certified the Iran deal in mid-October instructing his administration to address what he says are the deal’s “serious flaws,” including permitting Iran to conduct research and development of improved uranium enrichment techniques while its ballistic missiles program races ahead.
A sneak-peak of show #3 of Ñews24: Our exclusive interview with Dario Jinchuck on #Iran & how the Argentinian-Iranian nuclear cooperation deal was constructed.@damianpachter @carloskalman @yanivazou pic.twitter.com/fPGfo2xbn6— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) November 17, 2017
This interview can be viewed in its entirety on i24NEWS Spanish-language program News24.
Damian Pachter is i24NEWS's Latin America correspondent and a research fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. He hosts News24 every Friday at 1900 GMT. Follow him on Twitter.
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Once NoKo nuke is solved it will be easier to confront Iran.