Clinton probed Argentine leader's 'nerves,' 'anxiety,' 'stress'

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 29, 2010 

MEXICO CITY — Seeking a frank evaluation of Argentina's president, the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires late last year to delve into her psyche.

"How is Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner managing her nerves and anxiety?" asked a cable dated Dec. 31, 2009, and signed "CLINTON" in all capital letters.

The cable, sent at 2:55 p.m. on New Year's Eve, and originating in the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, asked a series of other probing questions as part of what it said was an attempt by her office to understand "leadership dynamics" between Kirchner and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner.

"How does stress affect her behavior toward advisors and/or her decision making?" the cable continued. "What steps does Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner or her advisers/handlers, take in helping her deal with stress? Is she taking any medications?"

Delving into the personalities of foreign counterparts may be integral to modern diplomatic give-and-take. But the bluntly worded cable asking about the Argentine leader's "nerves" and "emotions" may further test up-and-down relations between Washington and Buenos Aires. The cable suggests that Washington saw Kirchner and her husband as perhaps prone to emotional instability.

The cable was one of several related to Argentina released in the latest batch of U.S. diplomatic traffic made public this week by WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website that publishes sensitive government documents.

Under Kirchner and her husband, who ruled the country from 2003 to 2007 and who died Oct. 27 after an apparent heart attack, Argentina has sought alliances with neighboring Bolivia and Venezuela, countries led by strong critics of the United States.

The Clinton cable, classified as "secret," also inquired into the mindset of Kirchner's husband, who was her closest adviser prior to his death.

"Long known for his temper, has Nestor Kirchner demonstrated a greater tendency to shift between emotional extremes? What are most common triggers to Nestor Kirchner's anger?" the cable asked.

The cable described Nestor Kirchner's governing style as "heavy-handed," and asked U.S. diplomats in Buenos Aires to determine whether Cristina Kirchner viewed "circumstances in black and white or in nuanced terms?" Does she have a "strategic, big picture outlook" or does she "prefer to take a tactical view?" it asked.

Other leaked cables offered insight into U.S. interest into a foreign minister's past links with leftist Montoneros guerrillas, and suggested that Argentina had offered to intercede with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who expelled the U.S. ambassador to La Paz in September 2008.

Another confidential cable detailed Argentine umbrage at Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela's remarks in late 2009 suggesting that U.S. businesses had concerns over "rule of law and management of the economy in Argentina."

"Once again, the Kirchner government has shown itself to be extremely thin-skinned and intolerant of perceived criticism," the cable said.

The Argentine anger at Valenzuela contrasted with the good relations it held with his predecessor, Thomas Shannon, an Oxford-educated U.S. diplomat with a smooth manner. According to the Madrid daily El Pais, a not-yet-public cable dated Sept. 2, 2008, reveals how Shannon convinced Kirchner that Washington did not have anything against Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous leader, and did not seek to break apart his country.

"Evo is not an easy person," Kirchner told the U.S. ambassador in Buenos Aires at the time, according to the cable cited by the newspaper. It said then-Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana called a Bolivian counterpart three times to try to lower U.S.-Bolivian tensions.

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