The United States and several Latin American nations have found a short-term solution to Argentina's debt crisis, which had threatened the Argentine government's stability, US bank profits, and the willingness of banks to continue lending to developing nations.
International financial experts say the loan package represents a watershed because several other debtor nations have agreed to help one of their neighbors with overdue bank loans.
''This is of historic significance,'' says William R. Cline, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics here. ''This is the first time that a number of regional countries have intervened to assist a debtor country in meeting its obligations.''
This cooperative attitude allays the banking community's fears that Latin American nations as a group would repudiate their $340 billion in debts. Those fears, in turn, recently have reduced the willingness of commercial bankers to make new loans to developing nations.
Unless banks keep renewing old loans, it would be hard for many developing nations, which owe the banks some $800 billion, to keep financially afloat.
The agreement demonstrates that Latin nations ''intend to see the debt problem through on a cooperative basis with the creditor countries rather than on a confrontational basis using a debtors' cartel for default,'' Mr. Cline says.
Government officials were concerned that Argentina's refusal to exhaust its scant financial reserves to pay overdue interest on its $43 billion debt could spread to other borrowers. If Argentina had been allowed to miss a key loan deadline, the governments of Mexico and Brazil ''would be hard pressed by some of their people to explain why they pay when Argentina refuses to pay,'' Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan said Saturday.
Under the agreement, reached late Friday night, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia will lend Argentina $300 million to pay overdue interest on its loans to foreign banks. Argentina also will contribute $100 million of its own reserves.
Yesterday, the Argentine interest payments would have been more than 90 days overdue. At that point the US banks involved would have been required to declare the loans officially in arrears and remove from their earnings statements the interest income the loans produced. If the US banks had been forced to reduce earnings, international experts worried that banks would be less willing to loan additional money to debtor nations.
In addition to aid from its Latin neighbors, Argentina will get a short-term agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The 30-day loan will let Argentina repay its Latin neighbors before the IMF funds formally are released.
Some in Congress have already denounced the package as a bailout for US banks. ''No way'' did the government intend to bail out banks, counters Deputy Treasury Secretary R. T. McNamar.