Sunday 11 April 1982
It's a beautiful Easter Sunday in Buenos Aires, and even with only three hours of sleep I can relish the bright, cloudless glow of this morning as it dawns over the river, the coastline of Uruguay visible fifty kilometres away. The Argentine Foreign Minister has invited Haig to mass in a nearby neighbourhood church, the Basisílica del Santissimo Sacramento, which is where the motorcade takes us at 7:45. The Easter service here is sparsely attended, and though the church interior itself is pretty in a kind of Spanish provincial fashion - gilder altar, baroque hangings, lots of ornate metal and light blue enamel - it breathes a generally dispiriting atmosphere, due in large part, I suppose, to the toneless recital of the priest (in whose droning delivery, by the way, I do not once hear the word paz). And where is Costa Mendez? Reportedly this was his church and his idea, but he is a no-show throughout the service.
Even though Nicky the Gimp is not here we adopt his notion, i.e. pray for a peaceful settlement of the present crisis …
En route across the Atlantic to Dakar we caucus on the results of our shuttle diplomacy so far and concede that, given the posturing on both sides, grounds for deep pessimism are plentiful. You might get some sense of the state of play as we now see it in a couple of excerpts lifted from the Sec-Pres we cable out from the aircraft:
I have concluded nearly twelve hours of gruelling and emotion-filled talks with President Galtieri and his Foreign Minister, amidst a public mood approaching frenzy. We made some progress on these issues, though very probably not enough to secure British agreement. The Argentines began by demanding that they, in effect, administer the island in the interim period, and that the British agree a priori that the outcome of the ensuing negotiations would provide for a transfer of sovereignty. In the end, we came up with a formula that would involve transitional US-UK-Argentine tripartite supervision of local administration, and we have blurred the question of whether the negotiations would result in Argentine sovereignty. We have specified December 31, 1982, as the date for completion of negotiations. The thought of negotiating under the deadline may cause Mrs. Thatcher as much of a problem as will the formula for interim administration. Nevertheless, what we have is worth taking to London. [fo.158 begins]
"The day was filled with ups and downs. At one point late in the day the Argentines returned to their demand for sovereignty, and I was faced with what looked like the end of the road. But the situation broke between midnight and 1:30 a.m. when Galtieri, face-to-face with the prospect of war, levelled with me. He said he could not withdraw both his military and administrative presence and last a week. If the British attacked, he explained, he would have to accept the offer of full support made by the Cuban Ambassador, who just returned after more than a year's absence. The Cubans implied they were speaking for the Russians, and even insinuated that the Soviets had offered to sink the British carrier (with Prince Andrew aboard), leaving the British and the world to believe an Argentine sub had done it. I doubt that such an offer was actually made by the Soviets, but we cannot discount it altogether.
"The time for a possible personal intervention by you with Mrs. Thatcher has not yet arrived. We must first see how she reacts to the proposed interim solution and the date certain for a final settlement, as well as my appeal for British military restraint. I will not hesitate to ask when I feel the time is right for you to approach her. Meanwhile, I will tell the press only that my discussions in B.A. were open and meaningful, and that I am returning to London with some ideas for further discussion. While we can now build pressure on the British by conveying a sense of movement on the part of the Argentines, I do not want to characterize the current proposals or describe them as US-made, since that would put the blame for the war on Mrs. Thatcher if she cannot accept them. Even as we press for diplomatic success, we must not shift the onus to our closest ally if war occurs …"
Good luck, Al. Pending that moment of dark truth, a long mothering plane ride is still ahead of us …We still have five and a half more hours of flight ahead of us and lord knows how many scrambled meals and time zones, so that when we finally arrive in London Heathrow it will be 6 a.m. the following day. Whenever that is …