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ARGENTINA | 29-03-2023 21:54

Behind the scenes of the bilateral: What did Alberto Fernández and Joe Biden say to each other?

President Alberto Fernández’s delegation spent more than an hour and a half in the White House; Seeking support in its discussions with the IMF, US President Joe Biden remarked on the heavy economic inheritance both leaders received upon taking office.

The presidential meeting lasted 20 minutes and the extended meeting lasted for more than an hour. During it, US President Joe Biden repeated – several times – a phrase that Alberto Fernández later highlighted. "You inherited a destroyed economic situation from your predecessors like me," the American leader said to the Argentine. 

They spoke of the need for a strategic alliance based on three items: food, energy and critical minerals such as lithium. But Fernández's delegation also managed to leave with the support of the United States during discussions with the International Monetary Fund and perhaps even help to unblock financing from multilateral organisations. The latter also has to do with China's role in Argentina. 

In his presentation to the press, Alberto Fernández was careful with his words. He had entered the Oval Room of the White House with two sheets of paper in his hands on which he had written down the "talking points" he had for Joe Biden. Without looking at them, he said each of the points he had prepared, which included a condemnation of the war in Ukraine, a thanks and a request for help from multilateral lending agencies. 

The president had done the same at the Ibero-American Summit, days before arriving in the United States, remarks which Biden welcomed. The suggestion to talk about the war in Ukraine – despite the fact that the final document of the organisation did not mention it – came from Argentina’s foreign minister, Santiago Cafiero.

Back in the Cabinet Room, the presidents moved on to an exchange involving their top officials. 

"Power was seated at the meeting today. The most important US officials were there," said one official who was part of Argentina’s delegation. This is how they referred to the participation of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the working meeting. 

Yellen's presence means a lot to Argentina amid the talks with the International Monetary Fund over the outcome of a new review set to be released on Friday. The United States has 16 percent voting power at the multilateral lender.

In this sense, Biden looked at Yellen and said: "She’s the one who fixed the problem with the banks and with the same speed she is going to help Argentina to smoothly cross the bridge between the future we see in terms of food, energy and minerals and the difficulties your country is going through due to the drought."

The delegation said that the US president also reiterated his support for Argentina at multilateral organisations. 

Yellen admitted that the drought had hit Argentina after the agreement was signed and endorsed the fiscal effort made by the country, although she said that the focus should be on the Central Bank's reserves. 

At the end of the meeting, Cafiero highlighted "the explicit support from the Biden administration to take into consideration the exceptional situation of the drought in these months, and also not only in the programme we have with the Fund, but also with all the other multilateral credit organisations such as the IDB [Inter-American Development Bank] or the World Bank."

Massa was in charge of detailing what the drought represents to state coffers and showed projections of what production could grow to in 2024. This was in response to a question from White House officials about "how to increase food production." 

Members of the Argentine delegation said that during the meeting Biden highlighted the president's leadership in the region and spoke of the possibility of working together in "times of uncertainty."

"My team has already been instructed to work side by side with you," said the US president. "Biden said three times that we had in common that we had inherited a destroyed economic situation from the governments that preceded us," the president told Perfil in a press conference with other media outlets.

Answering questions at Argentina’s Embassy in Washington after the bilateral meeting,  Fernández said that in the meeting he had alone with Biden, China was not discussed. However, in the extended meeting, the Democratic leader did talk about China's role in the region. 

"He was very clear and said that China was a competitor, not an enemy," said one official.

Addressing the role of the country led by Xi Jinping, Argentina explained that middle-income countries get economic support from China that contrasts with the obstacles and conditions that multilateral lending agencies place at the time of financing. 

Blinken responded that they have the same view and that they are already working on it.

Later Wednesday evening, Alberto Fernández will depart for Buenos Aires. Tomorrow he will return to domestic discussions. 

While in the United States, he again avoided giving a definition about his candidacy. From Buenos Aires, he will also continue to dodge the possibility of running for re-election.

Rosario Ayerdi

Rosario Ayerdi

Jefa de Política. Mail: [email protected]

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