Archive (Rentschler MSS)

Falklands: Jim Rentschler diary (Haig's last-ditch effort with Galtieri) ["your current negotiating position constitutes a decision to go to war" with UK]

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: Major
Word count: 1,438 words
Themes: Defence (Falklands), Foreign policy (USA)

17 April 1982

… Haig makes one last-ditch effort with Galtieri inside the Presidential Palace. He has precious little material to work with, but then so does Galtieri - listen to the talking points he's getting now:

  • I trust you appreciate that your current negotiating position constitutes a decision to go to war with the United Kingdom.
  • My country has made a major effort - a President Reagan has engaged his full energies - to make progress toward a peaceful settlement, only to find that the Argentine position is fundamentally unchanged. Twice now, I have worked in good faith with your Foreign Minister to build a basis for serious negotiations. Both times our effort has been undone by the junta. Both times I have been faced with demands that can lead only to catastrophe.
  • From the outset, I understood your aim to be a change in the status quo sufficient to justify your decision to use force. But I must now conclude that your aim is to guarantee unchallenged Argentine sovereignty, nothing less. [fo.172 begins]
  • The position you have taken is one that the United States could never support.
  • You are leaving us no choice but to break off our effort and throw our full support behind the British. We are fully prepared to do that, and in fact are facing mounting pressures that only be resisted if serious negotiations now begin.
  • I am sure you understand that the dire economic prospects you already face because of the actions of others will be far worse once we line up with the British. Argentina will suffer economic collapse. Anyone who advises you otherwise is engaged in deception.
  • We know that you will be left with nowhere to turn but Moscow and Havana. We have taken this into account, though we are saddened to think what this will mean for Argentina.
  • Within a matter of days, the British fleet will be upon you. These forces are capable of inflicting severe damage on yours. I do not for one moment question Argentine courage. But it cannot prevent your systematic defeat by sophisticated British surface, sub-surface, and air power.
  • I have sensed that your government and your people do not share our estimate of British resolve. I have no doubt whatever that the British mean to go to war. Indeed, this is why I have made this extraordinary effort.
  • British determination will not wane once hostilities occur. On the contrary, if they sustain casualties, any sense of self-restraint on their part will evaporate. They will not wait for your forces to come to them.
  • The war you are about to enter will be ruinous for Argentina - politically, economically, and militarily. The British will not bear the onus, for you were the first to use force, and they made a reasonable effort to reach a peaceful settlement. There is no escaping historical responsibility for what now seems inevitable.
  • The last thing we wanted was tragedy for Argentina. We had been hopeful that we could develop a new partnership. Now that, too, will be impossible.
  • Mr. President, I have never asked you to agree to anything that could not be seen as a clear success for you. The ideas I have offered fully protect Argentina's dignity and provide the only way for you to move toward your ultimate goal.
  • The bitter irony is that you have opted for the one course that will guarantee that you do not achieve your aims toward the islands.
  • I urge you to review these harsh realities with the junta and then sit down with me to begin serious progress toward a successful, peaceful outcome. In that event, I pledge my utmost to help you.

While the inner colloquy drones on, the scene out here in the sunlight is not unpleasant. The newsies are swarming around the front of the Pink House - more of a tarnished egg-plant color in this bright relief - and the motorcade cars, arbitrarily directed by self-important security men, keep backing and turning in one ephemeral configuration after another. .. What the press types most want to hear at the moment is the identity of our next destination - hotel? [fo.173 begins] airport? Washington? London? - pretty much the same question the Secretary's own entourage has in mind! By the time today's talks conclude - the marathon session will extend to ten this evening - Haig will have logged a total of 28 discussion hours with the Argies (vs. 14 with the Brits) - so much for "evenhandedness". …

In the meantime, Gompert, Dean Fischer, Scott Gudgeon, and I have found the perfect symbol for this country: the putrid toilet on the ground floor of the Casa Rosada. Yeah, a number of us have to cop micturitions, and though reluctant to help us, the security creeps inside the Casa - heavily into leather, these guys, I love their polished boots, shoulder straps, and riding crops - lead us around a pretty palm-shaded interior courtyard, off the edges of which there is a corner with two urinals. Some corner! - it is inundated with pipi, huge puddles of it thoroughly soaking the pile of shredded newspaper which supposedly helps one service the nearby squatty-roo. Doesn't this sum up the regime distinctive flavor? - a façade of elegance and sophistication on the outside, behind which the cloacal reality lies in all its stinky-poo squalor. On the way out we pass a contingent of elaborately dressed Presidential guards - polished boots, gleaming sabers, towering helmets in toy-soldier perfection - which adds to the forcefulness of the symbol: here at the pinnacle of Argentine power just imagine the conditions in which these poor guys have to take a crap. …

Gotta watch myself! - my contempt for this bunch hereabouts has unconsciously begun to pervade even my familiar singing and humming habits, a fact I am only made aware of when a friendly Time correspondent advises me to be careful about one particular tune insistently on my lips: "Britannia Rules The Waves" (in an ironic sub-note some days from now, when the Brits will have torpedoed and sunk the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano some 26 miles outside the exclusion zone, I will remember that refrain and a British newspaper headline: "BRITANNIA WAIVES THE RULES"...) Gloom once again descends upon us when the SecState finally gets back to the Sheraton at 10 p.m., having devoted 9 straight hours to the cause of peace today. The Sec-Pres which I draft pretty much at his dictation sums up the latest stretch of roller-coaster track:

"Faced with an impasse resulting from the rigid Argentine position of last night, I insisted on a meeting this morning with President Galtieri and the other two members of the junta. I had nearly two hours with them and found them gravely preoccupied over the course on which they are embarked. The line-up within the junta is pretty much as we expected: the Air Force general is moderate, the Navy admiral is hawkish and ideological, while President Galtieri - no match intellectually for either of the other two - substitutes bluster for thought.

"On balance, I consider the meeting helpful because it heightened Argentine awareness that time is running out for a solution short of war. The leadership is now clearly reluctant to see our mission suspended - especially while we are now in Buenos Aires. The stakes are so high that we agreed to look at revised language now being prepared by the Argentine side on the critical issue of the islands' ultimate status, which they are bringing to the hotel later tonight. We discussed this one issue for nine straight hours today - and the future of our efforts may hang on a single word.

"To sum up, we emerged from today's marathon session slightly better off than we were when we ended last night. In all probability, however, I will conclude tomorrow that Argentine intransigence requires me to carry out your instruction to suspend the mission and return to Washington.

Hey, if it's true that the future of our efforts really do hang on even a single word, I've got a candidate: why not call these fucking dismal pieces of South Atlantic rock The Mallands? Or maybe Las Falkvinas? Pending adoption of that brilliant nomenclatural solution, [fo.174 begins] the game plan at the moment seems to be a glom at the junta's revised language (lots of luck), a pro-forma meeting with unspecified members of the leadership tomorrow morning, and then wheels up for Washington around noon. But we've been hitting what we thought was rock bottom before, only to find that the mission continued to breathe a bit of life, so perhaps tonight's gloomy assessment is again premature. …

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