Blinken meets Argentina’s Milei in latest sign of US support

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 9:47 AM

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s libertarian leader Javier Milei on Friday hosted U.S. top diplomat Antony Blinken, the most senior U.S. official to visit Argentina since Milei was sworn in December pledging a “shock therapy” to stabilize the country’s embattled economy.

Asked at the start of their meeting at the Casa Rosada presidential palace what was his message for the United States, Milei replied that “Argentina has decided to return to the side of the West, to the side of progress, democracy and, above all, freedom.”

Milei has taken a strongly pro-U.S. stance, though ideologically is more closely aligned with Republican former U.S. President Donald Trump, the main challenger to Biden in elections later this year.

The Biden administration has shown support for Milei with visits from officials including National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez, and the U.S. Treasury’s top international official, Jay Shambaugh.

Milei, an economist and former sharp-tongued pundit, has made tough austerity a key focus since taking office.

He has visited U.S.-ally Israel in a show of support for its response to Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian militants Hamas.

Ahead of the visit, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols praised Milei for speaking out in defense of democracy and human rights, including in Venezuela.

Adding a bit of spice to Milei’s relationship with the Biden White House, the Argentine leader is scheduled to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend in Washington, where Trump is also set to appear.

Blinken arrived in Buenos Aires on Thursday after visiting neighboring Brazil, where he met with left-wing leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who in contrast to Milei has clashed with Washington over his criticism of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan in Buenos Aires and Simon Lewis in Rio de Janeiro)