June 1, 2011 / 1:09 AM / 7 years ago

Bolivia says Iranian minister to leave immediately

LA PAZ/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Bolivia said on Tuesday it had taken steps to ensure that Iran’s defense minister, who is accused by Argentina of planning the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center that killed 85 people, leaves Bolivia immediately.

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi looks on as he attends the 24th Khwarizmi International Award (KIA) at the Iran's state television conference centre in northern Tehran February 5, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/Files

The statement came in a letter from Bolivia’s foreign minister to his counterpart in Argentina, which said the Iranian minister, Ahmad Vahidi, was in Bolivia at the invitation of the country’s Defense Ministry.

In the letter Bolivia apologized for the invitation, which it called “a grave incident”, and assured Argentina that Vahidi would not be in the country for long.

“As a result of this lamentable situation ... the government of Bolivia has taken the corresponding provisions to see to it that Ahmad Vahidi immediately leaves Bolivian territory,” said the letter, which was released in Buenos Aires by the Argentine government.

Sources in Bolivia’s government, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Vahidi left Bolivia late on Tuesday.

Vahidi is among the senior Iranian officials accused by Argentine prosecutors of being behind the attack that leveled the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. Iran denies any links to the bombing.

“Unfortunately (the Bolivian Defense Ministry) did not know about the background of the case,” the letter said. Nor did the ministry coordinate the invitation with the rest of Bolivia’s government, it said.

Vahidi enjoys diplomatic immunity, which complicates efforts to bring him to trial although in 2007 Interpol notified law enforcement bodies in other countries of an Argentine arrest warrant against him.

Bolivia’s leftist president, Evo Morales, has close ties with Argentine leader Cristina Fernandez, who last year proposed that a third country be nominated by Tehran to host the trial of those accused of being involved in the bombing.

Iran rejected the idea, saying none of its citizens were involved.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Vahidi had visited Mauritania and held talks with the African state’s president before traveling to Bolivia.

Guillermo Borges, the AMIA’s current president, called Vahidi’s visit to Bolivia “a provocation.”

The letter said that Bolivia hopes the incident will not affect the “excellent” diplomatic relationship between it and Argentina.

Reporting by Carlos A. Quiroga and Hugh Bronstein; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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