269. Telegram From the Embassy in Ecuador to the Department of State1

3883. Subj: Admiral Poveda’s Request Regarding Sale of F–4 Aircraft.

1. Summary: Admiral Poveda has apporahced Embassy to sound USG out informally, but urgently, on whether we would make F–4 available to Ecuador. He indicated that an appropriate substitute package might also be acceptable if F–4 not available. Emb suspects that F–4 may not be suitable for Ecuador, but feels strongly that in light of announcement of new arms transfer policy2 and Mrs. Carter’s visit, we are obliged to come back with a legitimate counter-proposal. This would include F–5’s and perhaps A–10’s. End summary.

2. Background. Immediately following the visit of Mrs. Carter, the Ambassador was approached on June 4 by an Emissary of Adm. Poveda who reported the Admiral as wishing to make an informal sounding through the Ambassador about the possibility of obtaining F–4’s from the US. It was agreed through the Emissary that President Poveda and the Ambassador would discuss the matter orally within a few days, but because of the death of his father the Ambassador had to leave Ecuador temporarily. The Ambassador sent word to Poveda that he would like for him to discuss the matter with the DCM who would be charge in his absence. Prior to his departure, the Ambassador outlined his thinking on the request and formulated recommendations which are transmitted by this cable.

3. Admiral Poveda spoke with the charge on June 9. He said that Ecuador must make a decision in the very near future on what kind of fighter aircraft it would purchase, and stated that he wanted to explore informally the possibilities for obtaining US aircraft, especially the F–4 which the Ecuadorean air force would consider to be a satisfactory substitute for the KIFR. The charge stated that the Ambassador was pessimistic about obtaining the approval for sale of F–4’s but had said he would be glad to take soundings in Washington. Poveda stated it was essential to find out whether the US would permit sale of the F–4 or an acceptable substitute to meet Ecuador’s basic air defense requirements and be attractive enough for prestige purposes to take the sting out of the KFIR veto.

[Page 780]

4. Poveda stressed that he wished to get a decision on US aircraft from the USG through his own personal channels and thereby avoid having a formal request refused that would have an even worse impact on US/Ecuadorean relations that the USG’s refusal to permit Israel to sell Ecuador KFIRS. He implied that he too was dubious about USG approval of F–4’s, but hopeful that the USG would come back with a package that would meet Ecuadorean defense needs and be attractive enough to overcome the injured pride of the Ecuadorean Air Force.

5. Poveda said the GOE was still interested in the US survey team to examine Ecuador’s air defense needs. The charge cautioned that the Ambassador was also pessimistic regarding US approval for the sale of the I–HAWK (which the GOE has requested) because of the I–HAWK’s sophistication and cost. The charge said it was possible that a survey team would find Ecuador could get along with less sophisticated air defense missiles. Poveda said he understood this, and that if Ecuador could obtain F–4’s or other attractive substitute aircraft that could be coupled in an air defense system with less sophisticated but adequate air defense missles, pressure for the I–HAWK would diminish.

6. Poveda again stressed that soundings on the F–4 must be handled very confidentially and carefully so as not to damage the overall bilateral relationship. The charge promised Poveda to relay his inquiry to Washington while again cautioning him against expecting too much. Poveda replied that he understood and asked the charge to proceed.

7. Comment: (The following reflects extensive conversations with the Ambassador prior to his having to depart Ecuador.) For several months, since the KFIR veto, we have declined to talk in specific terms about air defense requirements for the GOE with the explanation that the new administration had not yet formulated its new arms transfer policy. The policy has now been announced and as they indicated in their discussion with Mrs. Carter, the Ecuadorean belief that regional arms imbalance caused by the Peruvian build-up provides them with an exception to a generally tougher US attitude. Since the basic guidelines of the new policy are now clear and evident to the GOE, we do not believe that we can continue to procrastinate in facing the issues here and maintain any credibility. Ecuador feels there is no longer sufficient reason for the USG to continue postponing its response to security needs expressed repeatedly to the Embassy, to Washington by the GOE high level mission in March,3 and to Mrs. Carter. The GOE [Page 781] believes the continued arms purchases by Peru present an immediate danger. Most members of the armed forces would prefer American planes and missiles, but all are agreed that Ecuador cannot delay much longer before placing orders.

8. Mrs. Carter’s visit has also contributed to the need for a quick decision on this problem. During the substantive conversation with her the Ecuadorean Officials put all of their eggs in one basket choosing to devote 90% of the three-hour conversation to security problems, even eschewing a discussion of GSP exclusion in the process. They gambled on convincing Mrs. Carter of the arms imbalance and Ecuador’s need for defense equipment and they expected that she would convey her impressions to the highest levels. Poveda seemed pleased with Mrs. Carter’s responses and we therefore do not think it a coincidence that Poveda’s approach has been timed so soon after Mrs. Carter’s visit.

9. We have no doubt that if we offered the F–4, FAE would accept it and that the transfer would rebound greatly to the benefit of our bilateral relationship. And although the F–4 is not currently authorized for Latin America, we understand that there has been some movement to change that. However, we doubt whether the change could be effected soon enough to give a reasonably prompt answer to Admiral Poveda. Moreover we have greater doubts about the appropriateness of the F–4 for Ecuador in any case. The level of sophistication needed to fly it and especially to maintain it may not be adequate in Ecuador. If so, it would either have a dismaying percentage of downtime, or US technicians and advisers would have to be present frequently and in numbers to assist the FAE. While we have argued in the past that some sort of US identification with Ecuador’s defense would be salutory for regional peace, we do not believe that we would care to identify ourselves to the extent that the demands of Phantom servicing might imply.

10. The Embassy is also troubled by the potential impact on Peru of a sale by the US of F–4’s. While we do not believe that their delivery would destabilize the region or produce any greater arms race that has been engendered by Peru unilaterally, we do believe that the sale by US of Mach 2.2 fighter bombers with an operational radius reaching Lima might cause the Peruvians to look askance at the US and cool the present thawing of bilateral relations.

11. Realizing that reversal of the KFIR decision is not in the cards and if F–4’s are not considered appropriate, the Ambassador would like to go back to Admiral Poveda at the same time with a legitimate and possibly acceptable alternative offer. The Embassy is convinced that Ecuador must be given some kind of definite answer now. In the name of our own budding bilateral relationship and in view of what has transpired over the past several months, it is the least we can do. [Page 782] The Ambassador, before his departure, therefore outlined as a proposal to the Department the following alternative option packages:

A. Offer 24–36 F–5’s on normal terms. The F–5 is authorized for Latin America and its interceptor capability would make it an acceptable, if not ideal, plane for Ecuador’s air defense problem. The chances of FAE accepting it, however, are probably less than 50% because of reasons mentioned previously. At least, we would have made the gesture.

B. Offer F–5’s with accelerated delivery times. If we could offer some F–5’s to reach Ecuador before the current 18 month factory lead time, GOE would find the proposal a great deal more attractive. It would indicate our special interest in their problems. We believe that there may be sufficient Army and Navy support for this kind of proposal to persuade the recalcitrant Air Force.

C. Offer a mix of F–5s and A–10s. GOE had envinced an interest in A–10s for some time now because their anti-tank capability counters perfectly Peru’s large number of Soviet tanks. It meets a legitimate, obvious, and recognized defense requirement. It moreover has the attraction of being brand-new which would probably be sufficient to overcome FAE vanity. The FAE has already rejected repeated efforts by company representatives to sell it the A–4 or A–7, and we believe there would be virtually no chance of the FAE accepting a package of F–5s and A–4Ms or A–7s. Aside from production problems we understand that prohibitions on the A–10 derive from its FAU–8 round (gun projectile). We believe that the A–10 might be acceptable to the FAE, however, without the GAU–8 round or with another gun with some anti-tank capability and FAE hopes of being able to acquire the GAU-system in the future. The army, of course, could be expected to push very hard to obtain the A–10 because of its problems in dealing with Peruvian armor. We believe that offer of F–5s and A–10 would represent the optimum in being forthcoming for political reasons, giving Ecuador some air defense, adding to its anti-tank capability, and in minimizing the impact on our relations with Peru in consonance with meeting our objectives with Ecuador. Moreover, such a mix would force Ecuador to focus its military planning on a defensive strategy centered on thwarting realistic threats.

D. Although the survey team concept can probably no longer stand alone as an effective approach, it ought to be included in all of the three above options in order to further demonstrate our interest. On the other hand, if option B and certainly option C could be made available, we feel that we could get off the hook on the missile question without any particular political loss.

12. [less than 1 line not declassified] a decision on aircraft purchase will be made soon after the Ecuadorean mission to the Paris Air Show [Page 783] returns to Quito on June 18. Our military representatives also believe this likely. If so, we have a very short time to be forthcoming and to attempt to channel the Ecuadorean defense effort into a desirable course.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770209-0537. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information to Lima.
  2. Presumable reference is to PD/NSC-13, May 13. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Document 271.
  3. In telegram 69266 to Quito, March 29, the Department summarized the March 24 meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770107-0722) In telegram 69925 to Quito, March 29, the Department summarized the March 25 meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770108-1198)