Argentina asks Bolivia to explain defence deal with Iran

Buenos Aires and opposition parties in La Paz demand information after agreement announced by Tehran's state-linked media

Iran’s Defence Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani and Bolivian Defence Minister Edmundo Novillo Aguilar signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defense and security on Thursday.
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Argentina has asked Bolivia to explain a controversial defence agreement with Iran that has also drawn criticism from opposition parties in the capital La Paz.

Iran’s Defence Minister Brig Gen Mohammad Ashtiani and Bolivian Defence Minister Edmundo Novillo held a high-level meeting on July 16. Iranian state news agency Irna and state-linked Tasnim announced the deal on July 20.

“In light of Bolivia's critical requirements in border defence and the fight against drug trafficking, we actively sought to establish collaborations in equipment and expertise with the country,” Brig Gen Ashtiani said.

Leonardo Loza, who sits on Bolivia's senate security committee and is allied to the ruling Movement Toward Socialism party, appeared to confirm the agreement by saying his country “has the right to sign agreements with other nations”. Mr Loza also said the US was “the most dangerous country”.

Argentina's Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Bolivian embassy in Buenos Aires on Monday “requesting information about the scope of the discussions”, an official said.

The note came on the same day as members of Bolivia’s opposition demanded the government explained the deal.

The closer ties between Bolivia and Iran could rankle politicians in Argentina, which has had strained ties with Tehran following the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Iran has denied any involvement in the attack, but Argentinian and western countries hold Tehran responsible.

Iran has been growing its presence in Latin America in recent years. In February, Israel alleged that Tehran had supplied Mohajer-6 attack drones to Venezuela after images showed the unmanned aircraft at a Venezuelan military event.

The drone transfer followed allegations by US admiral Craig Faller in 2020 that Iran was stepping up weapons transfers to Caracas. Venezuela has also been a key ally of Syria, supplying fuel to the government of Bashar Al Assad at the height of the country’s civil war.

“The Defence Minister must explain the agreement and why it has been signed with a country that has complications on the international stage when Bolivia is supposed to be pacifist according to its constitution,” Gustavo Aliaga, a Bolivian opposition legislator who is the secretary of the Defence and Armed Forces Committee, told AP.

“They say that (Iran) will give us drones. Others say they will give us missiles. All of this sounds strange, even more so considering it involves Iran.

“I can’t understand why Bolivia is getting involved in such a complex and difficult relationship.”

The agreement comes at a time when Iran has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the government of President Luis Arce in Bolivia has refused to condemn Moscow at the UN General Assembly.

Updated: July 25, 2023, 11:00 AM