A positive piece of foreign policy news for the Alberto Fernández administration ended in a minor furore this week, with Argentina’s foreign minister accused of fabricating part of a chat between the president and Joe Biden.
Fernández spoke with the US President-elect on Monday, with the two leaders sharing a 35-minute talk during which they touched on a number of issues, with the subject of Pope Francis providing a useful conversation starter. However, in amounts to a remarkable breach of diplomatic convention, by midweek Foreign Minister Felipe Solá was facing allegations had “invented” part of the conversation between the two leaders, after stating in a later radio interview the duo had addressed the thorny topic of Argentina’s US$44-billion debt with the International Monetary Fund.
Biden’s administration will play a key role in the new IMF financing agreement Argentina is currently negotiating. The United States is the IMF’s largest member by financing, and any major Fund agreement requires Washington’s backing. The previous record IMF agreement, granted in 2018 during ex-president Mauricio Macri’s time in office, was backed by Donald Trump’s administration.
In his interview, Solá said that Fernández had asked for “the collaboration and goodwill of the US executive director at the IMF, because we aren’t having much luck with the current director.”
Doubts about that claim, however, soon emerged. Infobae’s Román Lejtman, who revealed that Solá had missed the call due to a misunderstanding about where it was to take place (he arrived at the Olivos presidential residence on Monday, only to find out it was taking place at the Casa Rosada), said that sources in Washington were baffled by the claim, especially given that statements issued by both leaders’ offices did not mention the IMF.
According to Infobae, Mark Rosen, the IMF’s Acting United States Executive Director, “raised a formal protest” with the Casa Rosada, prompting Argentina’s government then went into “damage limitation” mode, eventually calming the problem with official denials from spokespersons and ministerial apologies.
By Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Presidency told the website that it was “Solá’s mistake,” seeking to put a lid on the row, which reportedly infuriated the president. “It was a blunder, this was serious. Alberto got angry, but he already considers the episode over,” a source told Noticias Argentinas.
The Casa Rosada will be hoping that the gaffe doesn’t cast too long a shadow over the call, which was something of a diplomatic coup. Fernández was the first Latin American leader to congratulate Biden on his election victory, according to a tally by the Washington-based Wilson Center. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador have both so far failed to do so.
Fernández says he is keen to reset ties with Washington and, after congratulating the Democratic leader on his election win, he told the president-elect in the call that his election was a “great opportunity” to improve ties between the US and Argentina, and Latin American as a whole.
According to a statement issued by the Casa Rosada, Biden responded positively, saying that “the continent has great potential, with a solid democracy, and we have a broad agenda to work on, from Canada to Argentina.”
“I want to have a solid relationship with the continent,” he added.
The two leaders then went on to discuss the economic situation in Latin America, bilateral relations and Pope Francis, who met Biden, a Catholic, during the American politician’s time serving as US vice-president.
Fernández reportedly told Biden that he desired a “solid and mature relationship defending security and democracies on the continent.”
Washington’s version of the call, a short read-out of barely 10 lines, said that Biden expressed his “appreciation for the longstanding and deep friendship” between the two nations.
He vowed to work closely with Argentina on Covid-19, though Biden’s team said the US president-elect had “emphasised the need for even deeper hemispheric cooperation on advancing economic prosperity, combating climate change, strengthening democracy and managing regional migration flows.”