267. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Ecuador1

69266. Subject: Ecuadorean Mission to Washington.

1. On March 24 Ecuadorean Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Ayala, and Chairman of Ecuador’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Renan Olmedo, met with Deputy Secretary Christopher. The Deputy Secretary also hosted a luncheon which included Undersecretary for Political Affairs Habib and other ranking State Department Officials.2 The following subjects were discussed:

2. Andean Subregional Instability.

A) The Ecuadoreans, especially Olmedo, impressed upon us the Ecuadorean view that Ecuador is currently defenseless and facing a clear and imminent threat from Peru. Both Ecuadoreans emphasized that the Peruvian arms buildup has changed the geopolitical balance of power in the Andean subregion. Ayala noted that there have been rumors about open conflict, some such reports originating from commentaries in American and European news media. Ayala said all of this had created a pre-war psychosis that is disrupting relationships in the Andean region. In addition, Ayala said that a new factor of instability had been added because the Soviet Union is the arms supplier of Peru. Ecuador and Chile want to reduce their arms spending and do not want to see an arms race. They plan to do all within their power to prevent an outbreak of war but Ecuador knows that it will not be left out of a war and therefore must take adequate precautions to defend itself.

B) Christopher replied that the US understood Ecuador’s concern about the arms imbalance, and had expressed that concern to the government of Peru. They added that the US was studying the situation carefully, and would try to be responsive to Ecuador within whatever limitations were determined for future US policy and resources. They concluded by saying the US was not unmindful of Ecuadorean concerns, but that US ability to help was limited.

3. Proposed Israeli Sale of KFIR Aircraft.

[Page 766]

A) To defend itself, Ecuador arranged to buy 24 KFIR fighter aircraft from Israel. Ecuador, said Ayala, considers the KFIR a defensive aircraft and a deterrent to Peru. The US veto of the sale leaves Ecuador defenseless. Ayala said that Ecuador needed the KFIR or something else—one or the other is indispensable. This is the first time in 25 years that Ecuador has wanted to buy new aircraft. The Ecuadoreans stressed that our KFIR veto meant only that Ecuador would buy from a country or countries other than Israel. They added that the Soviet Union and other countries had made very attractive offers. They stated that Ecuador did not wish to deal with the Soviet Union. Therefore, it appealed to the US to look at the problem very carefully.

B) Christopher stated that our veto should not be viewed as directed specifically against Ecuador, and that it was a continuation of our longstanding policy in Latin America, which has been one of restraint in introducing the most advanced weapons, including fighter aircraft. As for “something else”, Habib pointed out the practical problem of the US appearing to seek commercial advantage from the veto.

4. Ecuador-Peru Relations.

A) Ayala said that Ecuador was normally mistrustful of Peru, which made last December a difficult month after the scheduled visit to Ecuador of the Peruvian President fell through. Ecuador wants good relations with Peru, and for that reason sent a special envoy to Peru in February to improve relations. Peru’s arms buildup, however, has a destabilizing effect on the subregion, and Ecuador cannot be indifferent to powerful, modern arms that threaten Ecuador. Ecuador has no capacity, materiel, or desire to be aggressive. Ecuador, however, needs defensive arms to make its potential enemies think twice before considering attacking Ecuador.

B) Andean Office Director Devine told the Ecuadoreans that the USG perceived less threat of imminent hostilities than do some other observers. He added that the US had tried to calm the situation in December and January by letting that fact be known in response to alarmist views and inquiries by the press and some of the nations concerned. He said the USG hoped that it had in this way contributed to some easing of recent tensions and that it would be our continuing policy to seek to contribute to the cause of peace in the Andean region.

5. US-Latin America

A) Ayala said the US had a responsibility to take an active part in keeping the peace in Latin America. For example, it should help countries like Ecuador, which was attacked in 1941 by Peru just as the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Therefore, the US should study the defensive needs of countries like Ecuador that are threatened. He emphasized that Ecuador is seeking defensive and [Page 767] not offensive weapons. As an example, he mentioned an integrated air defense system.

B) Christopher said that he appreciated the tour d’horizon given by Ayala and that he was sympathetic to the appeal for the US to consider specific situations on a case-by-case basis. He stated that he felt the US should develop bilateral policies based on changing situations rather than develop one policy sufficient for all of Latin America. He added that he particularly admired the trends in Ecuador—specifically Ecuador’s admirable human rights record and its plan to return to democratic government in 1978. He said that we take those trends into account when dealing with Ecuador, which was one reason we were receiving the mission so early in this administration. He concluded by stating that we would certainly give careful consideration to Ecuadorean requests for defensive military equipment.

6. Other topics raised by US were:

A) US-USSR relations. Habib gave the Ecuadoreans a preview of US hopes and expectations for the trip of the Secretary to the Soviet Union.3

B) Regional agreement. Habib asked Ayala if a regional political arrangement was possible instead of an arms race. Ayala replied that in a pragmatic world a country needed an arsenal to prevent attacks on it. He cited the US arsenal as an example of one facet of US-USSR relations.

C) Integrated air defense system. Habib told the Ecuadoreans that one problem they faced in seeking to purchase the improved HAWK missile system was the fact that Ecuador would be the first country in Latin America to acquire that missile system. A question of policy is automatically involved by any introduction of a new weapons system into Latin America.

D) Human rights. Ayala praised the US for its philosophy of placing man in the center of its foreign policy. He asked, however, for the US to be pragmatic, as it was in dealing with Korea. He then asked how the US could set itself up as judge and jury for all other nations of the world. Habib responded that President Carter spoke at the UN on this subject in a multilateral way, adding that the US preferred a multilateral approach.4 If, however, such an approach proves to be impossible, then there is no question but that the US will lead in the human rights field. If that makes others angry, so be it. He added that human rights were [Page 768] not a temporary concern of the US, but permanent policy. Deputy Assistant Secretary Luers asked if the Inter-American Human Rights Commission was a viable possibility to handle human rights questions. Ayala replied “Yes, but it will be delicate”. Luers then asked if the UN would be better. Ayala said “Yes, because the vote there is more universal”.

E) Presidential trip to Latin America. Ayala asked if a trip by President Carter to Latin America was a possibility this year. Christopher replied that such a trip had a high priority but that the President had said he would not travel much during his first year in office. Olmedo said a Carter trip to the Andean subregion would be useful to balance the presence of the USSR.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770107-0722. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to La Paz, Lima, Moscow, Santiago, Guayaquil, Tel Aviv, and USCINCSO. Drafted by Allitto; cleared in ARA/AND and S/S and by Luers; approved by Christopher.
  2. In telegram 69925 to Quito, March 29, the Department reported on Luers’s meeting with Ayala and Olmedo. (Telegram 69925 from the Department of State, dated March 29, National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770108-1198)
  3. Vance visited Moscow, March 27–30. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Documents 1623.
  4. The President addressed the UN General Assembly on March 17. The text of the President’s speech is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 29.