34. Telegram 1186 From the Embassy in Argentina to the Department of State1

1186. Dept pass to Assistant Secretary Rogers.

1. On February 19, Ambassador Hill, accompanied by the Defense Attaché, Acting Air Attaché and the Acting Chief of Air Force Section USMILGP, called on new Argentine Air Force CINC Agosti.

2. Agosti, without any of his aides present, received the Ambassador and his party in his office in Air Force headquarters. After a brief but warm exchange of pleasantries, Ambassador Hill turned conversation toward specific matters of interest between our two air forces. Though he followed the Ambassador’s points closely, Agosti appeared not to be well informed on the subject and evidenced interest in raising other topics.

3. At what Ambassador and party believed to be end of protocol visit, Agosti asked that he be allowed to raise one question with the Ambassador. He asked the Ambassador for his assessment of the current situation in Argentina. Ambassador Hill said he would be glad to answer the question but noted that to be useful, he would have to be frank and candid in reviewing the situation. Agosti responded this was exactly the kind of analysis he wanted from the Ambassador. Ambassador Hill noted that the current situation in Argentina was a difficult one but stressed as he did throughout the conversation that solutions to Argentina’s present difficulties could only come from the Argentines themselves. The US wished to be a friend of Argentina [Page 107] but had learned through long experience that it did neither itself nor Argentina any good by intervening in local matters.

4. The Ambassador noted that there was a growing belief in the US that the constitutionalist policy of the Armed Forces most recently expressed by General Videla in general was giving way to a forming of resignation among political and military leaders that only a military intervention could deal with the country’s problems. The Ambassador noted that whether or not this was indeed the case, it was a matter for the Argentines to decide among themselves. At this point in time, the Ambassador noted, he in all candor could not deny that many influential Argentines were seeking to discern the policy the US would adopt if an intervention should indeed occur. He noted that at present it is the US Government’s policy to recognize a government that effectively exercises power and responsibly discharges its international obligations.

5. However Argentina resolved its problems, the Ambassador noted that he had an obligation to tell General Agosti that there were two problem areas which could perturb US/Argentine relations. The first concerned investment problems. (At this point the Ambassador briefly reviewed our outstanding investment disputes and synthesized for Agosti the relevant portions of the US Trade Act.) He further noted that the country’s present economic state would make it difficult for the country to raise funds without recourse to the IMF or other international lending institutions. The second broad area in which problems could arise would be in the area of human rights, an issue that had become sensitive in the US.

6. Agosti followed Ambassador’s entire exposition with great attention and by mutual agreement with the Ambassador had all of the Ambassador’s remarks translated into Spanish to avoid confusion even though Agosti speaks English. It was clear as Agosti escorted Ambassador Hill to his car that his expressions of thanks for his candid appraisal were very sincere ones.

7. Comment: Ambassador Hill told Agosti he would not object if substance of conversation were discussed with Army and Navy CINCs. Doubtless Agosti will soon transmit this conversation to his two fellow CINCs who along with Agosti have in recent days tried through several indirect means to assess US views re the political situation. (Detailed memcon will follow by septel.)

  1. Summary: Ambassador Hill told Air Force Commander in Chief Agosti that the Argentines would have to determine their country’s future, adding that the United States would recognize an Argentine Government that effectively discharged its international obligations.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760065–0825. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to DIA. In telegram 984 from Buenos Aires, February 12, the Embassy reported that the military appeared to have given up on the ability of civilians to govern and to be awaiting an appropriate moment to step in. The Embassy concluded that the United States “must now wait for coming developments and hope for a stable, responsible govt.” (Ibid., D760054–0425) In telegram 1042 from Buenos Aires, February 16, Hill reported on a conversation in which a Foreign Ministry official told the Ambassador that he had been asked by “the military planning group” to prepare a study on how best to avoid problems with the United States on the human rights issue. The officers reportedly intended “to carry forward an all-out war on the terrorists” but wished “to minimize any resulting problems with the US.” (Ibid., D760058–0466) In telegram 44004 to Buenos Aires, February 24, the Department commended Hill for his handling of Agosti’s inquiry and of the human rights issue. (Ibid., D760068–1074) In telegram 1292 from Buenos Aires, February 26, the Embassy transmitted a memorandum of conversation of the Hill-Agosti meeting. (Ibid., D760072–0725)