61. Memorandum From the Ambassador in Argentina (Lodge) to President Nixon, Buenos Aires, February 11, 1970.1 2

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Buenos Aires, Argentina
February 11, 1970

The President
The White House

Dear Mr. President:

This letter recommends that you reach a decision promptly to authorize the sale of 16 A–4B airplanes to Argentina, a matter I consider to be of crucial importance to our relations with this country. After lengthy preliminary discussions, the Government of Argentina last September formally requested permission to acquire these planes from our Government for use aboard an aircraft carrier recently purchased from Holland. This request has been the subject of interdepartmental discussions at several levels, most recently by the Under Secretaries Committee, which on January 29 decided to elevate it to your Office for decision.

The inability of U.S. Government officials to resolve this matter at lower levels reflects the complexity and magnitude of the issues involved, including U.S. arms policy toward Latin America in general, effect upon neighboring countries, and certain U.S. domestic considerations centering on the Congress. The painstaking scrutiny to which this request already has been subjected ensures that the numerous weighty arguments both for and against this sale will be brought to your attention in the pertinent staffing papers.

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From the point of view of our bilateral relations with Argentina, however, I am convinced that the reasons for such a sale immeasurably outweigh those against it. I believe I would be remiss, under the responsibilities you have given me, in not conveying directly to you my steadfast opinion on the core issue from this viewpoint. The leaders of this government and in particular the military leaders, who hold the balance of political power, have made it abundantly clear that they regard the sale of these planes as a test of our interest and sincerity in maintaining the present friendly level of our relations, which Foreign Minister Martin has stated are the most cordial in our history. The unusual experience of a cooperative Argentina, one of the great powers of Latin America with even greater future potential, has opened up promising opportunities for facilitating our handling of some of our thornier Latin American problems. This already has borne fruit in a close coincidence of positions on many major international issues, including East-West relations, Cuba and Viet Nam, and in the moderating role Argentina has exercised in our current problems in Peru and Bolivia. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Martin, unlike some other Foreign Ministers in Latin America, is most friendly to the U.S. It is good political doctrine, I know you will agree, to reward the faithful while greasing the creaky wheel.

There is no question in my mind that the present cordiality and cooperation of the Argentine Government will be abruptly reversed if the U.S. Government cannot be forthcoming to its request for A–4B’s. This is so not because of the importance of the planes themselves, since the Argentine Government if we refuse to supply the planes can and certainly will acquire them from European sources, albeit with much inconvenience and at much greater cost. But these planes have now become a symbol, and our refusal to make them available at virtually the same time that I must notify the Argentine Government of our unilateral decision to terminate the aid program, would surely be interpreted as a most unfriendly U.S. posture toward this country. Argentina would have every right to consider that the U.S. is refusing to deal with it as a mature partner whose characteristics, [Page 3] potential, and destiny, the Argentines are convinced, set her apart from the rest of Latin America.

Although a reply was promised to Argentina by last Christmas, the issue is still unresolved and the delay itself threatens to undercut some of the goodwill which the sale might be expected to generate. An early decision is, therefore, most important and its nature will have a great deal to do with my future effectiveness here.

I do not underestimate, Mr. President, the broader facets of this issue, which you must take into account in arriving at a decision. My purpose is to give you my personal view on the impact of this matter on our bilateral relations with the Argentine Government.

Respectfully yours,
[signed John]
John Davis Lodge Ambassador

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 768, Country Files, Argentina 1969–71. Secret. With his signature, Lodge handwrote, “and with warm personal regards.” Nixon replied on March 5 indicating he had approved the sale of the airplanes. (Ibid.)
  2. Ambassador Lodge outlined why it was in the U.S. interest to sell 16 A–4B airplanes to Argentina.