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Cablegate: Argentina: Space Launch Vehicle Update

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #0691/01 1421510
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 211510Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1108
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 6802
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 7109
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L BUENOS AIRES 000691

SIPDIS

ISN FOR D. MAHLEY AND P. DURHAM
WHA FOR BSC J. SHOWELL AND M. DRUCKER
OES/SAT FOR B. FORD
CIA/WINPAC FOR J. CASKER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/18/2018
TAGS: MTCR PARM PREL ETTC TSPL AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: SPACE LAUNCH VEHICLE UPDATE

REF: STATE 50050 AND PREVIOUS

Classified By: AMBASSADOR E. ANTHONY WAYNE, FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) & (D)

1. (U) This is an action request. Please see paragraph 10.

-------
Summary
-------

2. (C) The head of Argentina's space agency is confident
that the GOA will eventually agree to our request for
greater transparency in Argentina's space launch vehicle
(SLV) program. However, that will be a decision taken at
the highest political levels, and will likely be subject to
an evaluation of the intrusiveness of the measures we
propose. We also suspect that the GOA will ask that the
USG formally release Argentina from its 1992 assurances
not to develop an SLV before agreeing to make its program
fully transparent to the U.S. End Summary.

Transparency Requested
----------------------

3. (C) The Embassy delivered reftel points May 16
requesting that Argentina provide the U.S. with full
transparency into the Argentine space launch vehicle (SLV)
program. Dr. Conrado Varotto, head of Argentine space
agency CONAE, and Ambassador Elsa Kelly of the MFA's
Directorate of International Security, Space, and Nuclear
Issues received the demarche. Emboff followed up with a
May 19 meeting with Dr. Varotto, and we plan to meet with
Ambassador Kelly next week (she is currently traveling).

CONAE's Informal Reaction
-------------------------

4. (C) Dr. Varotto told Emboff May 19 that his government
still ""needs to take a very careful look"" at our points,
but his initial reaction is that, from CONAE's technical
perspective, Argentina could agree to everything. The
problem, Varotto continued, is that this issue has risen to
the political level, and it is therefore difficult to predict
how things will be decided. Varotto pointed to our request
for annual consultations as key to the GOA's decision-making
process. Specifically, if such consultations are to consist
of Varotto sending a progress report once a year to the U.S.
Ambassador and inviting Embassy officials to witness program
milestones, such as rocket launches, then Varotto believes
the GOA will have no problems in acquiescing to our request.
If, however, our idea of consultations is to send teams of
U.S. experts to Argentina in what would likely be
high-profile visits, then that might be more difficult to
sell.

5. (C) Varotto said that his aim is to somehow bring the
issue back to a working/experts level, and he will best be
able to manage that if whatever we work out does not appear
to involve anything particularly intrusive. Both Varotto
and CONAE General Secretary Felix Menicocci expressed
optimism about the chances that this issue will soon find
an amicable resolution. Putting that feeling into words on
the way to the elevator after the meeting, Menicocci held
up reftel points and said: ""This is not a bad paper.""

Gestures of Goodwill
--------------------

6. (C) Varotto insisted that the GOA has given every
indication possible that it is serious about keeping the
SLV program transparent. For example, the GOA, as it has
in the past, invited the Embassy's ESTH counselor to
witness a scheduled May 15 launch of its Tronador 1 rocket
(reftel). The Embassy's DAO office provided transportation
to the launch site, which was located within the grounds of
the Puerto Belgrano Navy Base (located at 61 55 59 W - 38
56 00 S), but the anticipated launch was aborted twice that
day, and no Embassy official was present when it
successfully lifted off May 16. Still, ESTH counselor was
afforded every consideration, given unfettered access to
the rocket itself and to all persons involved in the
launch, and was allowed to take photographs of the rocket
from all angles.

7. (C) Embassy DAO officials had been denied access to the
same event, however, a circumstance that Emboff told
Varotto called into question GOA assurances of complete
transparency. Varotto countered by saying that military
officials had been deliberately excluded to avoid the
possibility that anyone (read: the U.S.) might imagine
there to be a military component to the SLV program. He
stressed that the GOA made a conscious decision to invite
only scientific counselors from interested embassies
(Brazil, France, Italy, and the U.S.). Emboff then asked
why, if that was such a concern, the GOA chose to use the
grounds of a military base for the launch site. Varotto
explained that CONAE had contracted with the Argentine Navy
for logistical support for the launch. The base was the
only place in Argentina remote enough for the purposes of
the launch that possessed the requisite manpower and
firefighting capabilities and also had sleeping quarters
for the CONAE team. (Note: It was ESTH counselor's
impression that the members of the Argentine armed forces
present at the launch site were there only in a support
capacity. CONAE scientists were making all the decisions.
At the same time, Elsa Kelly admitted to DCM that the
decision to hold the launch on a military launch was likely
to give rise to questions outside of Argentina about the real
nature of the program, though she insisted, like Varotto,
that resources and logistics were the sole reasons for that
decision.)

8. (C) As further evidence of Argentina's openness, Varotto
pointed to the GOA's May 19 formal declaration to the
International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile
Proliferation. That declaration explained the context of
the launch, gave the location of the launch site, and
otherwise complied with the notification provisions of the
Code.

9. (C) Varotto also said that he would be happy to brief
MTCR partners at the annual plenary, but he had questions
about the possible utility of such a briefing. That is,
Varotto noted that there was an almost complete overlap
between signatories of the MTCR and of the International
Code of Conduct, which Argentina had just advised of the
test. An exception is Brazil, but Varotto and Menicocci
said Brazil is well aware of the Argentine SLV program.

Action Request
--------------

10. (C) We request further details concerning how the
Department envisions the ""annual consultations"" we are
requesting, and how the U.S. proposes to conduct the site
visits. As Varotto explained, those details will be key
factors in the GOA's eventual response to our request.

Comment
-------

11. (C) Despite Varotto's optimism regarding the chances of
quickly putting this issue behind us, we suspect that he and
his nominal supervisors at the MFA will ask for something in
exchange for formalizing Varotto's frequent offers of
providing the U.S. with full transparency into Argentina's
SLV program. Specifically, Varotto hinted that the GOA
will suggest the following quid pro quo: the GOA will
agree to full transparency, with yearly bilateral
consultations (whatever form those eventually take), in
exchange for the U.S. agreeing that enough time has passed
to render obsolete and therefore invalid the 1992
assurances that Argentina would not develop an SLV program
for the ""foreseeable future.""
WAYNE

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