President Donald Trump will host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House tomorrow; the timing of Erdogan’s visit is awkward because his government just hosted an Iranian official implicated in a major terrorist attack. In the absence of concerted pressure from the United States, Erdogan has deepened his ties to a wide range of terrorists and extremists.
In July 1994, Hezbollah operatives directed by senior Iranian officials bombed the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 85 and injuring hundreds more. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentine history. Hadi Soleimanpour was Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing and has an Argentine warrant out for his arrest.
On Saturday, Soleimanpour appeared in Antalya, Turkey, along with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for the annual meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization, a regional development body.
Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who led the AMIA investigation until his murder in 2015, provided evidence in an indictment that Soleimanpour oversaw the intelligence activities in Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires that facilitated the bombing.
The Nisman indictment showed that Soleimanpour had a long record of involvement in terrorism. He was previously a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and while serving as Tehran’s ambassador to Spain from 1985–1989, he reportedly oversaw a sleeper cell there and maintained contact with Hezbollah activists. This reportedly led him to be “invited to leave” the country.
While the Shah was in power, Soleimanpour reportedly planted a bomb at an Iranian university. In addition, Soleimanpour was reportedly involved in the illegal procurement of military equipment of U.S. origin.
The U.S. government has worked closely with the administration of outgoing Argentine President Mauricio Macri to address Iranian-backed terrorism and illicit finance in the Western Hemisphere. In July, Argentina added Hezbollah to its new terrorism list along with several financiers believed to have played a role in the AMIA bombing.
Speaking to Latin American counterterrorism officials and AMIA family members in July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The U.S. [is] recommitting to the cause of justice for those killed in the AMIA bombing, and I mean it.”
On November 4, the United States designated Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s foreign minister at the time of the attack. The ideological mastermind of the AMIA bombing, he too has an outstanding arrest warrant. Velayati is currently an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and “helped the Iranian regime extend credit lines to the brutal Assad regime,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Turkey’s activities antithetical to U.S. interests go beyond hosting Soleimanpour. Erdogan provided refuge and hospitality to violent jihadists, including Saleh al-Arouri, the West Bank commander of Hamas’s Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, who boasted about the kidnapping and slaying of three Israeli teens. Erdogan has also bankrolled affiliates of al-Qaeda. In Syria, Turkey-backed militias have committed atrocities against America’s Kurdish allies as well as against ethnic and religious minorities.
Senior Turkish officials, reportedly with Erdogan’s knowledge, were complicit in multi-billion money laundering schemes designed to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. Erdogan also utilizes “hostage diplomacy,” taking innocent American pastors, journalists, and diplomats as hostages to extort concessions from the United States.
While President Trump has a warm relationship with Erdogan, Erdogan’s toxicity may not be Teflon-coated – as evidenced by the recent across-the-board condemnation of the Turkish president by Trump supporters in Congress, leading evangelicals, and supporters of Trump’s tough Iran policy. A red carpet for Erdogan is unjustified until he ceases Turkey’s malign activities rather than covering them up.
Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). To receive more of Toby’s policy briefs, op-eds, and research, subscribe HERE. For more from CMPP and CEFP, subscribe HERE. Follow Toby on Twitter @TobyDersh. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.