Archive (Rentschler MSS)

Falklands: Jim Rentschler diary (Haig leaves Buenos Aires, returns to Washington) [Costa Mendez at the airport - last minute withdrawal of concessions]

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: 721 words
Themes: Defence (Falklands), Foreign policy (USA)

Monday 19 April 1982

It's uncanny how accurately the weather can sum up the course of these palavers and their likely outcome. We arrived here the first time in such warm sunshine and glittering skyscapes, and on the second round, while still sunny, the season was clearly moving toward colder days and nights. The view from my hotel window this morning discloses a B.A. scudded over with black trails of storm cloud, from which copious quantities of chill rain are already pouring. A very suitable accompaniment to these last hours of our mission here, considering the cheerless perspectives which now lie down the road. Haig does conclude a few more hours of jawboning with the Argies, and though it looks like he may have achieved a small measure of flexibility by the time we move into the motorcade, an alert from the Foreign Ministry informs us that Costa Méndez will be out at the airport to convey and important last-minute message. Which is … those wunnerful guys inside the junta say no soap on the "flexibility", any proposals acceptable to Argentina must include an a priori commitment to sovereignty over the Malvinas.

Fuck you, Argentina. We're airborne, with not much to show for our extended loitering about in the Southern Hemisphere, but even so our next destination is uncertain right up to the last minute. The Secretary has decided to send the text we now have to Pym in London and let him determine whether he thinks it would be worthwhile for us to return to the UK. The go/no-go point will be our refuelling stop in Caracas, by which time word will have come into the aircraft from Number Ten Downing Street and we will know if we continue north to D.C. or start veering east across the Atlantic toward London. All of this I learned pretty much by eaves-dropping in the Embassy, like my colleagues part of a "hover mode" which had us munching snackbar sandwiches while Haig finally slammed down the secure-phone receiver in disgust (the rainy weather was playing havoc with the voice circuits and completely garbled Judge Clark's end of the conversation); much the same activity ensues here in the air, where Haig's senior staff clusters around his table and desultorily comments on the action thus far, laying odds on the chances of come-ahead request from London (I am betting strongly against it).

Pym's response flashes in well before we reach Venezuela - essentially "thanks but no thanks, believe it would be better for you to head on home". Did anyone seriously think he would send us any other message? Time to bag it. The stewards pull down the comfortable sleeping berths, and everybody outside the crew surrenders to the Morpheus mode - after all, this mission is dead in the water, we all know it, so why not grab whatever rest we can. By the time it is wheels-down at Andrews, we are well into the next morning - 3 a.m. - and it seems pointless to go all the way home, only to sleep an hour or two before getting up to go into the office. Accordingly, with some vague idea of sacking out on my office sofa, I pick up my Bobcat and drive directly to the White House, the start of a long long day and a very interesting one, punctuated by the following lines of more than routine absorption: [fo.177 begins]

  • Judge Clark asks me to use his 9:30 a.m. briefing to fill the President in on all matters Falkland-side, a task I perform with some pleasure and enthusiasm;
  • a bit later in the morning the Judge also asks me to be on hand when Al Haig comes over to provide his version of events (the President greets a fatigue-stooped Haig with the warm words "Home is the sailor, home from the sea" - the latter still sees a chance for the diplomatic route but concedes that the options have greatly narrowed and that the likelihood of imminent hostilities is very high);
  • and a few hours after that I receive what is my first and quite likely last Presidential phone call: "I tried to reach you last Friday, but you were in Argentina, and now that you're back, I want to know one thing: will you be my Ambassador to Malta?" …

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