Archive (Rentschler MSS)

Falklands: Jim Rentschler diary (US decision to launch mediation; Haig's first visit to London) [MT: "Interim authority? - to do what?"]

Document type: Declassified documents
Source: Thatcher Archive (copy of the text per the late Ambassador Rentschler)
Editorial comments: Jim Rentschler was the NSC official responsible for European matters, who handled the Falklands for the White House throughout the crisis. He gave a photocopy of the original diary to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation for publication in 2003. The full Falklands diary can be read here as single text.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 1653 words
Themes: Defence (Falklands), Foreign policy (USA)

Thursday 8 April 1982

[fo.151 begins] … I am now accompanying Haig to London and B.A. The detail only came up this morning - yesterday morning to be technically precise - and my involvement in it demonstrates the fortuitous, if not altogether fortunate things that can happen to a street-hardened bureaucrat who keeps a nose out for fast-breaking action. Hanging around the Sit Room late last night I learned of yet another message which Maggie Thatcher moved the President's way (she's really pushing us for all-out assistance against Argentina, including participation in an embargo) and figured that this might cause waves the following a.m.. I reported in earlier than usual - and found myself assigned as notetaker in a hurriedly convened NSPG. That's National Security Planning Group, guys, a core-group get-together which the White House heavies use to avoid the sprawling group gropes and inevitable leakage which come with more formal sessions of the full NSC. Chaired by the President - impatient to board Marine One and move off toward Easter sun in the Caribbean - it assembled the VP [Vice President George Bush], Judge Clark [National Security Adviser], Cap the Suitcase [Caspar Weinberger, Defense Secretary], U.N. Amby Jeanne Kirkpatrick, JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Chairman Davy Jones, and Admiral Bobby Inman subbing for the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey]. Bobby Inman, truly one of the best and the brightest! He has a bellyful of the Agency under Bill Casey & Co. and will shortly retire, but not before attacking Jeanne Kirkpatrick's view that the key issue in the South Atlantic crisis is the preservation of the Inner-American System (whatever the f*** that is) and the viability of the Rio Pact. "Inner-American System" is typed in the original, but "Inter-American System" would make more sense. "I couldn't disagree more with Jeanne's statement, it's the most wrongheaded thing I've ever heard!" And he went on to evoke the ties of language, alliance, tradition, and strategic interest which should tilt us overwhelmingly in Britain's favor, adding a chilling warning: "I want you to remember the problem we have with Argentina on the non-proliferation front; if we let the Argentines get away with aggression now using conventional stuff, who is to say that ten or fifteen years down the road they won't be tempted to try it again with nuclear?"

The main outcome of that meeting, however, was the decision to send Haig to the two feuding capitals, and Bud McFarlane, Judge Clark's deputy, suggested simply in passing that I plan to go along. Hence the rush over to Haig's office immediately following the NSPG for a pre-departure strategy session, then the rush home to pack and get out to Andrews [Air Force Base on the eastern edge of Washington] in time for a wheels-up which was then still set for 1 p.m. ( the beginning of yet another press flap, when those anonymous sources in the White House will snipe at Alexander the Great [Haig], telling the New York Times that he refused to travel in the "Tube", that windowless KC-135 converted tanker, and insisted on one of the VIP tailgates even if that meant delaying our takeoff. So much bullshit..). . the last thing [Haig] told me at the meeting in his 7th Floor office broke up this morning was to be sure and bring my racket)..

London Heathrow, when we reach it at 4 p.m. UK time, is bathed in fresh spring sunlight which, though not truly warm, is nevertheless an improvement on those wintry gales we left behind in Washington. . In the meantime our motorcade barrels along on the M-4 toward Central London, cutting through Beauchamp Place and SW 1 as part of the security run into Whitehall, Now we are linked up with senior [fo.152 begins] FCO counterparts, the US side comprising ARA Asst Sec. Tom Enders, Ambassador-at-Large Dick Walters (old friend from Paris days), Press Spokesman Dean Fisher, Larry Eagleburger's homme-à-tout-faire Dave Gompert, and some Legal Office reps (Haig is one-on-oneing with Francis Pym, the Foreign Secretary newly appointed to replace resigned Lord Carrington). In this initial meeting the resolute mood of the Brits is very clear, but only a mild taste of what we will soon get across the way in Number Ten.

Number Ten! . The deceptively modest exterior and narrow entrance hall give way to quite an opulent and even spacious drawing room upstairs, though one must approach the latter in a gingerly fashion: they are painting the steps, and we must be careful not to tread on the fresh layer of white lining each side of the space where they have removed the carpet (as Clive Whitmore, the PM's private secretary ruefully informs us, this bit of refurbishing had been decided upon for a time which, a few weeks ago, looked to be very quiet ...).

And here's Maggie, appearing in a flower-decorated salon adjoining the small dining room after we have stood around about a quieter-hour sipping orange juice and sherry. La Thatcher is really quite fetching in a dark velvet two-piece ensemble with gros-grain piping and a soft hairdo that heightens her blond English coloring. "Listen, I want to show you guys something very appropriate considering the subject on our minds" - and she pointedly leads us to a pair of recently hung oil portraits, one of Nelson and the other of Wellington! Dinner in the cramped, wood-panelled private dining-room is a very pleasant affair of overcooked British beef and quippy conversation, at least until coffee, when the PM gets down to the nut-cutter nitty-gritty.

Thatcher, you see, just ain't buying our "suggestion" for a diplomatic approach to the crisis, which is essentially a three-part process beginning with Argentine troop withdrawal from the Falklands, the establishment of an interim second stage where the return of British administration could occur under cover of some vague multilateral entity (possibly the US, Canada, and two Latins), followed by an agreement to resume negotiations on the bottom-line issues of sovereignty and self-determination.

As I say, Maggie is having none of it. Her position - strongly supported by Defense Minister John Nott and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Terry Lewin, somewhat less so by Francis Pym - calls for the status quo ante, period. High color is in her cheeks, a note of rising indignation in her voice, she leans across the polished table and flatly rejects what she calls the "woolliness" of our second-stage formulation, conceived in our view as a traditional face-saving ploy for Galtieri: "I am pledged before the House of Commons, the Defense Minister is pledged, the Foreign Secretary is pledged to restore British administration. I did not dispatch a fleet to install some nebulous arrangement which would have no authority whatsoever. Interim authority! - to do what? I beg you, I beg you to remember that in 1938 Neville Chamberlain sat at this same table discussing an arrangement which sounds very much like the one you are asking me to accept; and were I to do so, I would be censured in the House of Commons - and properly so! We in Britain simply refuse to reward aggression - that is the lesson we have learned from 1938."

Tough lady. She has some other wonderful quotes while Al Haig sits there, nervously tapping his leg and chain-smoking his Merits, but at the same time keeping his cool, trying to reason, ever so gently encouraging the Brits to think through the course on which they have embarked and to recognize the limits - as yet unspoken - beyond which the US [fo.153 begins] cannot and will not go in its support of this staunchest of all our Western allies, the one to whom we owe so much. The presence of Dick Walters offers some comic relief, Magpie Dick Walters with his endless anecdotal rap and his encyclopedic command of miscellaneous Argentine lore ("You know the definition of an Argentine, Prime Minister? - it's an Italian speaking Spanish who likes to pretend he's English"), but the tension over the chocolate candies and the demi-tasse cups has gotten too acute for any truly comfortable laughter. Indeed, unless this hardened attitude softens a bit, or unless we get something out of the Argentines tomorrow, I see very little daylight for a peaceful settlement, especially with John Nott making gonadal noises about the ability of the British fleet to sustains operations indefinitely in the South Atlantic, despite the onset of formidable winter conditions - the ice, the snow, the 60-foot seas, the constant Antarctic gales, and the vulnerabilities of an 8000-mile supply line (Haig will tell us later that Nott is . showboating to convince the Cabinet that he is more royalist than the Queen and that the only reason he wasn't offloaded with Carrington was the fear that it would be too chaotic and demoralizing at a moment when the Brits were rushing to mobilize their task force. Don't worry, Haig adds - his days are numbered). A replay of Suez (1956) and/or Skybolt (1962) coming up?????

Speaking of such débâcles, my head is undergoing one at the moment, indeed for a whole long string of moments beginning sometime near our takeoff from Andrews a million miles ago this morning. . Still, it is worth all the pain to be seated at this table in the midst of real war-and-peace stakes. And for all the rigidity and indignation on Mrs. Thatcher's side, it is clear that she and her colleagues really do trust us and hope we can pull off some mediatory intervention which can avert hostile engagement of the fleet. Quoting the Prime Ministerial words with which I concluded the very long memcon [memorandum of conversation] of this Number Ten Downing Street dinner later tonight, it is clear as well that the Brits are maintaining their sense of humor: "I do hope you realize how much we appreciate and are thankful for your presence here," sez Mrs. T, "and how the kind of candor we have displayed could only be possible among the closest of friends - with everyone else we're merely nice!"

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