US embassy cable - 07BUENOSAIRES376 (original version)

(C) U.S.- ARGENTINE RELATIONS: DR. JEKYL AND MR. KIRCHNER (original version)

Identifier: 07BUENOSAIRES376
Wikileaks: View 07BUENOSAIRES376 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Buenos Aires
Created: 2007-02-27 21:41:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PGOV ECON VZ AR
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
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DE RUEHBU #0376/01 0582141
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7388
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C O N F I D E N T I A L BUENOS AIRES 000376 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
WHA FOR A/S SHANNON, DAS DUDDY, AND WHA/BSC 
P FOR HEIDE BRONKE 
NSC FOR JUAN ZARATE AND JOSE CARDENAS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/27/2017 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, ECON, VZ, AR 
SUBJECT: (C) U.S.- ARGENTINE RELATIONS: DR. JEKYL AND MR. 
KIRCHNER 
 
REF: A. BUENOS AIRES 360 
     B. BUENOS AIRES 311 
     C. BUENOS AIRES 305 
     D. BUENOS AIRES 302 
     E. BUENOS AIRES 301 
 
Classified By: Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne for reasons 1.4 
(b)and(d) 
 
1. (C) Summary and Comment:  Argentina's President Nestor 
Kirchner is trying to stake out a position for himself close 
to Chavez yet still working well with the U.S. on issues 
important to Argentina.  With domestic political advantage 
and 2007 elections in mind, we expect Kirchner to continue 
the balancing act.  Kirchner will lash out with largely 
indirect criticism, he will cozy up to Chavez, and yet he 
will maintain a number of open doors to us.  Kirchner 
recognizes the value of maintaining quiet, positive relations 
with the U.S. -- particularly on key strategic issues, e.g. 
non-proliferation and counterterrorism -- but sees no value 
domestically in aligning himself publicly with the U.S. or 
its policies.  In fact, he gets a domestic boost from lashing 
out at perceived pressure and in striking an independent 
pose, a la Charles de Gaulle.  Argentina's commercial and 
economic relationship with Venezuela is also of strategic 
importance (refs. a, b), the difference being that, 
domestically, Kirchner does perceive value, in particular 
electorally, in publicly linking himself to Chavez; he is 
bringing home the bacon.  The meetings between senior GoA 
ministers and AG Gonzalez and U/S Burns and A/S Shannon were 
uniformly positive, recognizing an important common agenda in 
many areas (refs c-d and septels), and the press play from 
the visits was positive and profuse.  In light of this 
dynamic, Kirchner's statements in Venezuela -- that Argentina 
will "not contain Venezuela" and his invitation for Chavez to 
visit in March are indicative of the GoA's desire to maintain 
what they see as a "balance" in relations with the U.S. and 
Venezuela.  End Summary. 
 
2. (C) Attorney General Gonzales' February 6-7 visit, and U/S 
Nick Burns and A/S Shannon's February 8-9 visit to Buenos 
Aires and meetings with senior Kirchner ministers served to 
underscore improving bilateral relations, the breadth of that 
relationship, as well as highlight U.S. policy priorities in 
the region.  Kirchner insiders, Cabinet Chief Alberto 
Fernandez and Planning Minister Julio De Vido, confirmed to 
Burns and Shannon the importance of the relationship to the 
GoA, the strong working-level cooperation on 
counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and international support 
for non-proliferation.  Together with Foreign Minister 
Taiana, they shared concerns about the situation in Bolivia 
and Ecuador, and the need for strengthening stability in the 
region, including through joint efforts in Haiti.  They also 
emphasized the importance they place on attracting U.S. 
investment (although a negative decision made public during 
the visit regarding a U.S. investment fund seeking a share of 
a local energy transmitting company, indicates that the 
actual message to potential investors, at best, is mixed). 
Cabinet Chief Fernandez publicly characterized relations as 
"good" the day after Burns' visit. 
 
3. (C) The Kirchner style from the beginning, however, has 
been combative in the face of real, imagined and fabricated 
challenges from sources as varied as the Catholic church, 
neoliberalism and the "Washington consensus," the World Bank 
and IMF, parasitic foreign multi-nationals, the press and 
political opponents (whether from within or from outside the 
Peronist party) and -- indirectly stated -- the the U.S. 
This style has stood him in good stead. As the economy 
boomed, buoyed by favorable external factors, his popularity 
ratings have soared, and have remained high, due in no small 
part to his pugnacious character. 
 
4. (SBU) Kirchner demonstrated again over the last two weeks 
his willingness to attack external institutions for domestic 
political gain.  He lashed out on several occasions at the 
IFIs and other international organizations, rejecting their 
latest gentle criticisms of GoA economic policies and blaming 
them again for the 2001/2002 financial crisis and also for 
current high poverty levels.  His outburst followed mildly 
critical comments from the World Bank and World Trade 
Organization officials about the sustainability of the GoA's 
economic policies.  He was also responding to an IMF 
spokesman's comment to the press that an IMF agreement was 
normally a prerequisite for Paris Club debt rescheduling. 
Despite the IMF's explanation that this was a Paris Club, not 
IMF, requirement, Kirchner blamed the IMF -- his favorite 
whipping boy -- for blocking a Paris Club deal.  He and his 
Economic Minister, Felisa Miceli, also used the opportunity 
to pander to the public's extreme hostility towards the IMF 
by rejecting categorically any possibility of a Fund program 
with Argentina. 
 
5. (C) This dynamic helps explain the two faces of Kirchner 
we see in our bilateral relations.  Kirchner is essentially 
pragmatic but excessively focused on domestic issues and 
public opinion.  The low point in recent bilateral relations, 
occasioned by the GoA performance at the Mar del Plata Summit 
of the Americas in November 2005, perhaps convinced Kirchner 
he had gone a bit too far down the populist route.  Since 
then, we have seen a gradual and steady improvement in 
relations with an increasing willingness by senior-level 
officials in engaging in dialogue with us and in identifying 
areas where we can strengthen cooperation. 
 
6. (C) However, we do not expect to see a public embrace of 
the U.S. or many of our policies.  The public image of the 
U.S. in Argentina is the lowest in the region.  Kirchner's 
regular verbal assaults on policies and institutions linked 
in the public mind to the U.S., e.g. globalization and the 
international financial institutions, resonate very well here 
as long as they don't foretell a serious break (see latest 
INR U.S Image paper from the Oct-Nov 2006 Latinobarometro 
poll comparing Argentina with 17 other regional publics). 
Kirchner calculates -- with at least one eye always on the 
next election -- that there is little up-side to being linked 
too closely with the U.S., and little down-side to 
occasionally "standing firm" and "protecting the people's 
interests" before the hegemonic power. 
 
7. (C) The press here eggs this on, couching many issues as 
the ideological struggle between the U.S. and Venezuela for 
predominance in the region.  As a reflection of this, GoA 
actions are either portrayed as pro-Chavez or as a 
rapprochement with the U.S.  Contacts inform us that Kirchner 
also sees himself as maintaining this balance between the two 
-- a la Charles de Gualle between the cold war powers U.S. 
and USSR.  The Embassy has seen on several occasions, when 
the press appears to be too caught up in portraying the 
improving U.S.- GoA relations, that Kirchner will find an 
opportunity to publicly stick a pin in that balloon. In the 
aftermath of the Gonzalez/Burns/Shannon visits, Kirchner, 
while in Venezuela recently to sign a number of commercial 
agreements, may have felt compelled to "right the balance" 
and demonstrate his independence with his gratuitous remark 
that Argentina would not "contain" Chavez (ref. A).  The 
media here has, in fact, tied Kirchner's comments in 
Venezuela to Burns/Shannon remarks made here during their 
recent visit that the U.S. could work well with governments 
like Argentina and Brazil but that Venezuela was "another 
matter." 
 
8. (C) Comment:  It is clear we have foreign policy 
differences with the Kirchner administration, particularly 
over how we view Chavez and his actions in Venezuela and the 
region.  Press reports here say Chavez will be paying a 
return visit to Kirchner next week, coinciding with President 
Bush's visit to Uruguay (septel - Senior GoA contacts tell us 
the visit is still unconfirmed).  Ambassador has expressed 
our strong concerns that Chavez will use the occasion to 
organize another anti-U.S. rally (as is being reported in the 
press), and that such an act would negatively impact our 
bilateral relations.  This, unfortunately, would be the type 
of gesture to be expected of Kirchner; one focused on 
short-term electoral political gain, with little thought for 
longer-term consequences.  We should not expect significant 
changes in the GOA's foreign policy or GOA public statements 
in support of the U.S.  Nor is Kirchner likely to change many 
of his interventionist economic tendencies.  All of this is 
especially true in an election year.  But on most of the key 
bilateral and multilateral issues important to the U.S., in 
fact, we believe we can continue to build strong cooperation 
in a quiet, deliberate way. 
WAYNE 

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