Almost as unsurprising as Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s impressive victory on October 23 was President Barack Obama’s invitation to meet with the re-elected Argentine president at this week’s G-20 summit in Cannes, France. There appears to be a healthy, mutual desire to reduce bilateral tensions, after a number of difficult years.
A measure of realism is warranted: For the United States, Argentina (indeed, Latin America) is unlikely to have high strategic value in the coming years, and the United States will not be Argentina’s top foreign policy priority. But the modest goal of slightly improving the state of US-Argentine relations would be good for both countries. The start of another term for Kirchner opens up possibilities for better understanding and greater cooperation.
Obama will want to find a way to deal with various constituencies in the United States who are demanding a tough stand on Argentina. Creditors have long insisted that Argentina fulfill its debt obligations. Those pressures -- together with concerns in the US Congress and Treasury Department – have led the Obama administration to vote against loans to Argentina in the World Bank and the IDB. State Department officials who otherwise might have challenged that position had been undermined after the Argentine government confiscated equipment for a training program from a US plane in February.
If the Kirchner government agreed to work out a plan to meet its debt obligations that would send a welcome signal that it is prepared to be more moderate in economic policy and make necessary adjustments. That slight pragmatic shift – driven by circumstances – could help reduce strains that are in neither country’s interest. Such a move on the financial question could pave the way for greater cooperation on other issues on the bilateral agenda such as security and drug trafficking. It would start a process aimed at rebuilding mutual trust.
Other factors augur well for more productive US-Argentine ties. Iran is an urgent foreign policy concern for Washington, and Argentina’s position is viewed favorably. Despite distancing between the US and South America, the mood is not as bitter as it was six years ago, at the Mar del Plata summit, when Hugo Chavez was stronger and exerted more regional influence.
Given today’s realities, the glowing terms some used to describe US-Argentine relations in the 1990s do not make sense. But neither does the excessively negative talk heard in Buenos Aires and Washington.