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Cablegate: Argentine Plans to Develop a Space Launch Vehicle

VZCZCXYZ0004
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1793/01 2531231
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 101231Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9183
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 6405
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L BUENOS AIRES 001793

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

ISN FOR D. MAHLEY AND PAM DURHAM
OES/SAT FOR B. FORD
WHA/BSC FOR BRUCE FRIEDMAN
CIA/WINPAC FOR J. CASKER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/04/2017
TAGS: MTCR KSCA PARM PREL MNUC ETTC TSPL AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINE PLANS TO DEVELOP A SPACE LAUNCH VEHICLE

REF: A. KELLY/MAHLEY TELCON 8/30
B. FM TAIANA OP ED LA NACION 08/23
C. 00 BUENOS AIRES 1211 AND PREVIOUS

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

1. (U) This is an action request for ISN/MTR. Please see
paragraph 11.

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

2. (C) Argentine space agency head Dr. Conrad Varotto said
that the development of a space launch vehicle is essential
to Argentina's space program, and that Argentina has been
transparently pursuing the development of such a capability
for years. Varotto stressed Argentina's commitment to
Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines, and
expressed a personal willingness to meet with U.S. officials
to explain Argentina's position, address U.S. concerns about
the direction of Argentina's space program, and work toward a
mutually acceptable solution. End Summary.

-----------------
A Tangled History
-----------------

3. (U) Emboff visited Argentine space agency (CONAE) head Dr.
Conrad Varotto September 5 to informally present the U.S.
position with regard to Argentina's development of a space
launch vehicle (Ref A). That effort made some headway
recently with the May test of a liquid-fuel rocket motor and
an August public acknowledgement by Foreign Minister Taiana
of the importance to Argentina of developing its own capacity
to reach space (Ref B).

4. (C) Varotto appeared agitated when Emboff raised
Argentina's series of assurances since 1992 that it had no
plans to pursue an indigenous space launch vehicle (SLV)
capability, and countered that Argentina has long -- and
transparently -- sought such a capability. Varotto stated
that the first such steps occurred in 1994, when he said he
approached an embassy staffer (""the science adviser"") with a
draft chapter of Argentina's official space planning document
that clearly articulated Argentina's desire to develop a SLV
capability. The embassy official checked with superiors in
Washington and later said that the USG had no problem with
the document, according to Varotto. He asserted that that
""assurance"" led to a GOA presidential decree in 1997
specifying that Argentina should have access to space, which
in turn led to abortive GOA partnerships with Lockheed and
with Brazil and Ukraine.

5. (C) Varotto also pointed out that when Argentina's
then-Foreign Minister Di Tella accepted the dismantling of
the Condor missile program in the early 1990's and promised
to eschew SLV development, that commitment was only ""for the
foreseeable future."" Varotto argued that anything beyond 5-7
years could not be considered ""foreseeable."" When Emboff
reminded Varotto that the GOA reaffirmed that commitment in
2000, Varotto said that the GOA had argued then that it
needed to develop a SLV capability, and that it hasn't
changed its view.

---------------
A National Need
---------------

6. (C) Varotto made clear his view of the importance of an
indigenous SLV capability, saying Argentina ""cannot maintain
a space program without it."" Although he characterized
U.S.-Argentina (and specifically NASA-CONAE) space
cooperation as ""excellent,"" Varotto went through a litany of
reasons why Argentina will not be able to continue relying on
the U.S. or others to get its satellites into space.
Specifically, he cited the high launch costs of ""acceptable""
providers, and the GOA's unwillingness to run afoul of the
International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) by dealing
with lower-cost providers of launch services such as China or
India. Developing its own SLV capability is the least costly
alternative for Argentina, Varotto said.

7. (C) Costs and trade controls on sensitive technologies are
not the only factors pushing Argentina to develop its own SLV
capability, Varotto said. There is also a question of
control, with Argentina as a junior partner unable to
guarantee that it will be able to place the instruments it
needs into space. Extant and earlier partnerships have shown
that to be an acute problem, according to Varotto. Citing
those factors, Varotto said ""Argentina cannot maintain a
space program with such constraints.""

----------------
A Plea for Talks
----------------

8. (C) Varotto stressed Argentina's non-proliferation
credentials, saying that Argentina is a MTCR partner because
it believes in the Regime's guidelines. He took pains to
express a willingness to answer any of our questions about
the Argentine SLV program, saying ""I'll get on a plane
tonight to talk to anyone who will listen to me."" Varotto
said that he has been ""a friend of the U.S."" all his life,
and is hoping to work with the U.S. toward a mutually
acceptable solution. He said that if the U.S. is able to
formulate a plan that solves Argentina's launch problems,
Argentina would ""stop its SLV program immediately."" Varotto
suggested an arrangement whereby the U.S. could somehow
monitor Argentina's progress and certify that Argentina ""was
doing nothing wrong,"" saying he would willingly comply with
such a system. He added: ""If there is no solution to our
launch problems, we will have to shut down our space program.""

----------------------
Comment: A Way Forward
----------------------

9. (C) Varotto expressed his desire that the U.S. and
Argentina continue an informal dialogue on this issue. He
pointed out that this is not a particularly time-sensitive
issue, noting in response to a question from Emboff that
Argentina hopes -- in a best-case scenario -- to have a
viable launch vehicle in ""under a decade.""

10. (C) Post agrees that publicly articulating our
unhappiness with Argentina's SLV development would not be a
good idea at the time. We are at the peak of the Argentine
election cycle, and a public expression of U.S. concern
offers the unattractive possibility of giving pre-election
fodder to a nationalistic government that has shown a
willingness to bait the U.S. for its own political ends. If
the issue of Argentina's development of a SLV were to become
politicized, the chances of Argentina agreeing to a
resolution aceptable to the U.S. would diminish
considerably. The prospect of initiating quiet, expert-level
talks with Varotto is therefore appealing. While the Foreign
Minister's recent editorial underlining the importance to
Argentina of development of a launch vehicle likely
circumscribes Varotto's options, it is the Embassy's view
that we should take Varotto up on his offer to discuss
Argentina's plans with our experts in Washington, and proceed
from there.

11. (U) Action request for ISN/MTR: Dr. Varotto will be in
Washington D.C. the week of September 10 for meetings related
to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS),
and has indicated that he will be available for meetings on
Friday, September 14. Please advise whether ISN/MTR or any
other interested USG entity wishes to meet with Dr. Varotto
at that time.
WAYNE

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