77. Memorandum From the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • Arms and Training for Argentina


I have reviewed the Argentine situation carefully. There have been some improvements in human rights conditions there, including the recent release of Timerman,2 but these are more than outweighed by the continuing disappearances and the tragic, unexplained deaths of two nuns and five other women who were picked up while demonstrating in December.3

In view of this situation and the strong Congressional interest in our policy on arms transfers to Argentina, I think it would be inappropriate to go ahead with any of the pending arms transfer cases or to grant the Argentine request to purchase training. Instead, I would suggest that in conjunction with Raul Castro, a team consisting of senior State Department officials and senior U.S. military officers should meet at a high level with representatives of the Argentine Government.

The team would explain that because of human rights abuses in Argentina, we are not in a position to act favorably on either the large number of arms transfer cases that has accumulated or the Argentine request to purchase training,4 and that only substantial, authentic human rights improvements in Argentina would permit us to act favorably on these matters.

The team would inform the Argentines that if they curtail the irregular detention and abduction practices used by the security forces, [Page 262] and establish and meet a schedule for charging and trying—or releasing—those held under executive authority, we will respond in a calibrated and sequential fashion, as the human rights improvements occur, with approvals of the pending matters. Depending upon Argentina’s response to the foregoing, the team would have authority to indicate approval of some of the pending cases.

If you agree with this approach, I will ask ARA in conjunction with other bureaus and DOD to prepare for my review proposed instructions for the team. I would envision the team going to Buenos Aires within the next ten days. The proposed letter at Tab 1 from you to Harold Brown informs him of the approach set forth above and requests DOD’s cooperation.5

Warren Christopher6

Approve_______ Disapprove_______


  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Secretary: Records of Warren Christopher, 1977–1980, Lot 81D113, Box 13, Human Rights—Argentina III. No classification marking.
  2. Timerman was released from government custody on April 17 and placed under house arrest. (Telegram 2908 from Buenos Aires, April 18; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780165–0838)
  3. See Document 75.
  4. Vance underlined the phrase “purchase training” and wrote in the left margin: “What about this—might this not help move them in the right direction?” In a May 2 memorandum to Vance, Christopher wrote, “In view of your note concerning the Argentine request to purchase training, the instructions will authorize the team to respond favorably to that request if the discussions in Buenos Aires go well and it appears that such approval will help move the Argentines in the right direction.” (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Secretary: Records of Warren Christopher, 1977–1980, Lot 81D113, Box 18, Memos to Secretary 1978, 2 of 2)
  5. Vance signed the May 1 letter to Brown, which is attached but not printed. In a May 8 letter to Vance, Brown responded: “We are in complete agreement with your proposal to send a State/DoD team to Argentina as outlined in your letter.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–81–0202, Records of the Secretary of Defense, 1978, Argentina) In telegram 114913 to Buenos Aires, May 5, Christopher informed Castro of Vance’s decision, informing him of the team’s impending arrival, and asking for his views “on how we might best proceed.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850004–1615)
  6. Christopher signed “Chris” above his typed signature.
  7. There is no indication of approval or disapproval of the recommendation.