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May 31, 1982
PDF icon DID THE U.S. GIVE ARGENTI[15499957].pdf404.14 KB
ARTICLE APPEARED ON PAGE_Aajr___ [CIA HAS NO OBJECTION TO DECLASSIFICATION Approved for Release: 2018/09/17 C05899318kSE OF THIS DOCUMENT DATE: 09-14-2018 v C.1 LA Li THE WASHINGTON POST 31 May 1982 Did the U.S. Give Argentina a 'Wink and a Nod'? Sources Indicate Complicity a Myth �By John M. Goshko Washington Post Staff Writer As the Falkland Islands crisis enters its third month, questions persist about wheth- er the United States knew that Argentina planned to seize the islands and gave a tacit go-ahead to ensure the Argentine military junta's cooperation with U.S. campaigns against guerrillas in Central America. They are questions that; if not resolved, are likely to add a major new dimension to ' the intense controversy over President Rea- gan's efforts to cultivate the friendship of military regimes as the cornerstone of an inter-American front against communist penetration of the Western Hemisphere. So far, the Reagan administration has not responded in any detailed public man- ner to speculation about its role in the ma- neuvering that went on prior to Argentina's April 2 seizure of the islands from Britain. But, from what can be learned from well- informed sources here, the idea of advance U.S. knowledge or complicity appears to be largely a myth.A case can be made that the administration, through intelligence failures andiiioudgments about Argentine prior- ities, missed several opportunities to make its views so unmistakably clear to the junta that the bloodshed taking place in the South Atlantic might have been averted. However, the sources unanimously agreed that the United States did not know Argentine intentions because the invasion, conceived during the early months of this year, was a well-guarded secret, known only to President Leopoldo Galtieri and the inner circle of the ruling junta, plus one civilian cabinet minister, Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez, and a few lower- ranking pfficers needed to plan its mechan- ics. According to the sources, even the great majority of top commanders in the Argen- tine armed forces were kept in the dark until the time that the operation was ready. Given that emphasis on secrecy, the sources insisted, the junta had no intention of corn- promising its plans by revealing them to the United States or other foreign govern- ments. Instead, the sources added, the junta, relying on the advice of Costa Mendez, made several assumptions about how Brit- ain, the United States and the Soviet Union would react. Essentially, it assumed that Britain would not resort to military action, that the United States would talk the Brit- ish into accepting some face-saving conces- sions and that the Soviet Union, sensing a chance to strengthen its ties with Argen- tina, would veto any British attempts to obtain redress through the U.N. Security Council. ' However, the sources said, these assump- tions, all erroneous, were based on a com- bination of deduction and wishful thinking timt some characterize as "totally divorced tom reality!' ,What's more, the sources continued, the junta's unwillingness to accept that it had miscalculated and to seek to cut its losses, through negotiation has remained the prin- cipal impediment to a halt in the fighting. Secretary Of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s shuttle mediation failed because the junta, despite repeated warnings from Haig, sim- ply refused to believe that the United States would openly support Britain. Even now, when most military observers believe that the fighting has tipped deci-, sively in Britain's favor and that the Argen- tines are about to be forced off the islands, the sources contend that the junta is par- alyzed by its mistakes and pressures on it by angry factions of the armed forces ex- cluded from the original invasion plan. As a result, the sources believe the junta is in- capable of any action other than standing back and fatalistically awaiting what is like- ly to be a humiliating defeat on the islands that will topple it from power. Still, the speculation about whether the junta originally acted in the belief that it could count on the Reagan administratibn's rsupport has continued. To a large extent, it has been fueled by Argentine officials who 'have told reporters and diplomats in back- ground briefmgs that the junta had made clear to the U.S. administration the high pri- ority it placed on reclaiming the Malvinas, as -Argentina calls the islands, and had predi- cated its strategy on the belief that Wash- 'ington would intercede on its behalf against In this country, the idea that Washington had at least some advance inkling of Argen- line's intentions and reacted with "a wink and a nod" has been the subject of discussion 'among many liberal academicians and hu- man-rights activists. However, that charge is disputed by a va- riety of sources familiar with the course of :U.S.-Argentine relations in the Reagan ad- :ministration. Although these sources insist on anonymity, their accounts, obtained in', separate interviews dovetail closely. Collec- tively, they sketch this picture: - When President Reagan took -office, one of his first major foreign policy moves was to begin reversing the activist human-rights stance associated with President Carter. That policy had made Argentina a virtual pariah because the Argentine military, dur- ing the 1970s, had moved against leftist ter- rorists with its infamous "dirty war" that saw� .'thousands of people literally disappear as the :result of arrests- and kidnapings. ^, Instead, the Reagan administration put top priority on countering leftist guerrilla movements in El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America. As it searched for allies, it intmediately began mending fences with Latin American military regimes in accor- dance with the theory, put forward by U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and other policy makers, that "authoritarian" govern- ments, unlike "totalitarian" communist states such as Cuba, could be weaned gradually -toward democracy. Approved for Release: 2018/09/17 C05899318 GoNirlsu�2 - Kirkpatrick, in. particular, is understood to be very upset at the rupture that the Falk- lands situation has caused in attempts to build a special relationship with Argentina. According to the current issue of Newsweek magazine, she and Haig had a bitter, 45- minute telephone exchange last week in which she reportedly accused the secretary of being too slanted toward Britain and in- sensitive to U.S. interests in Latin America. Initially, Washington saw Argentina as ideally suited to playing a leadership role in U.S.-sponsored strategic ventures ranging from naval vigilance over the South Atantic to the support and training of anti-commu- nist forces throughout Central America. Galtieri was viewed as a particularly valu- able ally. He was regarded as a moderate seeking to curb the excesses of the armed forces, had Strong anti-communist creden- tials and openly advertised his eagerness to align Argentina more closely with the United States. He also had specific ideas about consol- idating his domestic power and popularity to the point that he would be able to smash the opposition of the Peronists that are the country's major political force, force Argen- tina to hold still for a long and painful pe- riod of surgery on its ailing economy and eventually return the nation to civilian gov- ernment, with himself the favored candidate to be elected president. � What wasn't known was that he decided to redeem Argentina's 149-year claim to sov- ereignty over the Falklands. Shortly after becoming head of the junta, he and his co- horts began planning to make that dream a reality. Parallel to the military planning was the political strategy based on the advice of Costa Mendez, an experienced and worldly diplomat who was regarded by the junta leaders as having a good understanding of the United States and Britain. He is under- stood .to have advised the junta leaders that if the Falklands could be captured without death or injury to the 1,800 residents, Brit- ain would not retaliate militarily and, that the United States, seeking to keep Argentine favor, would block Britain from seeking po- litical or economic sanctions. Despite the secrecy, hints of what was being planned did surface. For example, on Jan. 24, the influential Buenos Aires news- paper, La Prensa, which has close ties to Costa Mendez, published a lengthy commen- tary predicting a high-priority effort to re- cover the Falklands. It said Argentina wanted "something beyond the mere recov- ery of a portion of its sovereignty" and added: Approved for Release: 2018/09/17 C05899318 "As far as we know, Washington under- stands it so, this being the reason why it re- portedly has expressed its support for 'all of the actions' leading to the recovery, without excluding military actions." According to the sources here, such hints of U.S. acquiesence, while apparently planted by the junta, do not square with the facts. These sources insisted that, while a number of key administration officials vis- ited Argentina in the past year, at no time was any sign given to them that Argentina would resort to military action. The sources conceded that, during these visits, the Falklands were mentioned fre- quently by the Argentines, but the U.S. of- ficials tended to view it as no more than re-, � statements of long-held Argentine positions. In fact, some of the visiting Americans are known to have received the impression that if there were any danger of precipitous ac- tion over a territorial dispute, it would have been directed not against the Falldands but at the dispute with neighboring Chile over the Beagle Channel. In early March, Thomas 0. Enders, assist- ' ant secretary of state for inter-American af- fairs, visited Buenos Aires, and Argentine officials say an effort was made to impress upon him their insistence that the Falklands issue be resolved. Again, the sources here contended that the facts are different. They say that Enders, before making his trip, was contacted by the British Foreign Office and asked to urge the Argentines to resume negotiations over the Falldands that had taken place in New York in February. Enders did raise the subject with Costa Men- dez, who was described by the sources as having given a noncommittal but not nega- tive reply. While there, Enders also was briefed on the Argentine position on the Falklands by foreign ministry officials. But that was de- scribed as containing no hint that the situ- ation was approaching the stage where Ar- gentina would take military action less than a month later. When the Argentines started moving at the end of February, the sources said, it sur- prised not only the United States but also the intelligence services of Britain, Chile and BraziL, At Britain's urgent request, Washington tried to head off the invasion, first through representations at the embassy level and then by Reagan's now-famous phone call to Galtieri. On each of these occasions, the sources said, the United States made unmis- takably clear that an invasion would mean the end of the developing U.S.-Argentine friendship, but the Argentines reacted each time as ',though they did not believe Wash- ington would carry though on the threat, an attitude they would maintain through all the subsequent. negotiations with Haig right up 'until April 30 when Reagan stunned them by publicly siding with Britain. � Approved for Release: 2018/09/17 C05899318