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In Argentine eyes, the US is a traitor

Argentine-United States relations, deteriorating steadily as the Falkland Islands conflict heats up, have taken a sharp turn for the worse this week.

US Ambassador Harry Shlaudeman and the US Embassy here are being subjected to sniping attacks in the local press and on radio.

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Buenos Aires newspapers have been full of stories accusing Mr. Shlaudeman and the embassy's political officer, John King, of making contact with Argentine civilian politicians, labor leaders, and professional people -- in what one paper called a blunt attempt to bring down Argentina's ruling military junta.

Western diplomatic observers here speculate that the verbal attacks on the US Embassy are aimed at setting the US up as a scapegoat in the crisis over the Falkland Islands.

This speculation suggests that the government of Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri is behind the accusations. In fact, the Galtieri government has not been in touch with the US Embassy either to make the charges formally or to express its regret over them. Such contact would be normal procedure.

Indeed, there has been virtually no official contact between the government and the US Embassy in recent days.

For its part, the US Embassy has gone out of its way to deny the press charges. It is understood that the embassy has purposely kept a low profile at this time of crisis.

Normally, the embassy would be in touch with all sorts of opinion leaders here, just as the Argentine Embassy in Washington is in touch with, for example, both Democratic and Republican legislators on Capitol Hill no matter who is in the White House.

During the current crisis, however, the US Embassy has stayed far from any contact that might be construed as interference in Argentine internal affairs.

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Yet the reports of such contact persist.

This country is deeply aggrieved at US actions in Argentina's dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands. The US is almost more condemned here than Britain -- the country with which Argentina is expected to go to war at any moment.

Britain is the enemy; the US, which has sided with Britain, is the traitor. Many members of the Galtieri government feel this perceived US slight deeply.

The recent visit of Gen. Vernon Walters, former deputy director of the US Central Intelligence Agency and now a special diplomatic troubleshooter, did not assuage this hurt. General Walters is held in some considerable respect here, but his efforts to soothe the Argentine military were not enough to alter Argentina's anger over the US role in the Falklands crisis.

Whether the attacks on Ambassador Shlaudeman and the embassy were, in fact, orchestrated by the government or by elements within the government, there does not appear to be any embarrassment on the part of government leaders here over the attacks.

Last week's kidnapping of US and British journalists did cause some embarrassment -- with General Galtieri and other top generals both apologizing and entertaining the newsmen. The image of lawlessness the kidnappings suggested was not something Argentina wanted the world to see.

But the attacks on the US Embassy here are different. Argentina apparently does not mind having the world see them.

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