Peru is willing to consider providing Argentina with arms including Exocet anti-ship missiles now in its arsenal but has not yet been asked to do so, Foreign Minister Javier Arias Stella said yesterday.
Arias told a press conference that "quite definitely" there are no Peruvian planes, arms or personnel now in Argentina beyond the traditional training and cooperative interchanges of the past, and no shipments nor transfers from other nations are planned. "Nothing has been necessary because Argentina has not formally asked," he said. Informal talks go on continually, he said.
Argentina has used four of its reported six French-made Exocet sea-skimmer missiles to deadly effect in its conflict with Britain over the Falkland Islands, knocking out the destroyer Sheffield May 4 and the cargo ship Atlantic Conveyer Tuesday. Another Exocet apparently misfired and Argentina is thought to have only one left.
But Argentina's Exocets have been of the air-to-sea variety while Peru reportedly has only three of the type designed to be launched from ships and not from airplanes, and defense experts say the two kinds are not interchangeable.
If asked for Exocets, however, Arias said, "the authorization of the Peruvian parliament would be required. We will do as much as we can, but in addition we have to provide for our own defenses, too, of course."
Special correspondent Martin Andersen reported from Lima:
The issue of Peruvian military support for Argentina gained new impetus Wednesday following the disclosure that France had embargoed "for technical reasons" delivery of eight more Exocet missiles purchased by Peru before the Falklands crisis began and due to be shipped this week.
Despite Peru's strong diplomatic support for Argentina, military analysts agree with a Peruvian source who said the most Peru is likely to do is to "send a token force, possibily from the parachute division, placing them in a symbolic gesture around airports on Argentina's continental territory."
"Beyond that it could send bits and pieces," one source said, "but logistical and strategic considerations will prevent them from becoming very involved, at least very easily."
Sources say that Peru's role could be as a supplier of spare parts that the Argentines need but cannot get from their former arms suppliers. For example, the Peruvian Air Force has 20 British-made Canberra bombers, an obsolescent craft that the Argentines also use and for which parts may be needed.
The Peruvian Army and Air Force are heavily dependent on the Soviet Union for war materiel, while Argentina has no Soviet equipment. The Peruvian Navy has received most of its craft from the Dutch, West Germans and French.
Unlike the Argentine Army, which confronts a serious supply problem due to its dependence on NATO-issue weapons, the problem in many instances for Peru is an over-diversification in its weaponry, analysts say. The problem presents serious logistical problems as there is little interchangeability in its military hardware.
Despite the rumors of shipments of arms to Argentina in recent days, experts here say most of the weapons cited in the reports probably will not leave Peru for strategic or logistical reasons.
The Air Force's five Mirage aircraft are considered to be required here. Likewise, Peru's virtually fixed SA3 missile installations are said to need four ships to transport them.
Asked about the likelihood of Peru having sent a wing of Soviet-built Su22 (Sukoi) attack aircraft to Argentina, as was rumored here last week, one analyst pointed out that Soviet equipment needs a special Soviet power plant to refuel.
Other sources close to the Peruvian military say it would take time to train the Argentines to use the Peruvian weaponry, and that joint missions would be difficult due to a basic unfamiliarity of technique between the forces of the two countries.