From Blinken to Trump: Javier Milei’s Strange Trip

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President Javier Milei of Argentina hosted U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in Buenos Aires on Friday morning to discuss the various ways Mr. Milei is reshaping Argentina foreign policy in line with the United States.

A few hours later, both men were set to board separate planes for Washington. Mr. Blinken was going back to the White House and President Biden. Mr. Milei was headed to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, where he would take the stage ahead of former President Donald J. Trump and give a speech that would almost certainly rail against the dangers of the left.

Mr. Milei’s hectic itinerary — traveling south to north, left to right — shows how the new Argentine president is trying to navigate the politically turbulent waters of the United States in an election year, knowing that the next administration could be crucial to his own success.

In addition to being Argentina’s largest foreign investor and its third-largest trade partner, the United States has the most control of any country over the International Monetary Fund, to which Argentina owes $40 billion.

Argentina is largely broke — Mr. Milei’s new slogan is “There’s no money” — and his plan to pull Argentina out of its financial crisis could hinge on getting more money from the I.M.F. and more time to pay it back.

He is already rushing ahead with his economic plans as Argentina’s annual inflation exceeds 250 percent, the highest in the world by some measures, and protests and strikes mount. If he can stabilize Argentina’s economy, a feat no Argentine president has accomplished in decades, he has said he wants to ditch Argentina’s currency for the U.S. dollar.

So Mr. Milei, a former fiery television pundit who backed Mr. Trump’s 2020 claims of election fraud, has played nice with the Biden administration since taking office in December.

He has criticized China and Russia, aligned closely with the United States and Israel, and pulled Argentina out of its planned entry into BRICS, the alliance of developing nations designed to counter U.S. power.

At the start of the meeting with Mr. Blinken on Friday, Mr. Milei told reporters, “Argentina has decided to return to the side of the West, to the side of progress, to democracy and, above all, freedom.”

After the meeting, when asked what he thought of Mr. Milei’s travel plans, Mr. Blinken said, “That’s entirely up to him.” He added that he “could not be more pleased, on behalf of President Biden, with the meeting we just had.”

The United States has plenty to gain in Argentina, in particular the nation’s vast reserves of strategic minerals, including lithium, which is a major component in batteries for electric cars. It was a topic of the talks between Mr. Milei and Mr. Blinken on Friday.

But the friendship Mr. Milei is aiming to forge with Mr. Biden is somewhat complicated by his separate bid to boost his global image as a warrior against the modern left, which he says is poisoning the West with socialism and social justice activism.

His speech slamming socialism and feminism this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, went viral after the billionaire Elon Musk shared it with millions of followers.

Mr. Milei opposes “social justice” because it aims “to help someone by taking away from someone else,” Diana Mondino, Argentina’s foreign minister, said at a news conference with Mr. Blinken on Friday. She said that even if Mr. Milei and Mr. Biden don’t agree on everything, they can still get along. “We live in a very complicated world,” she said.

Mr. Trump has been a big fan, repeatedly cheering on Mr. Milei to “make Argentina great again” in online posts. But the two have not yet met in person.

That could change on Saturday, when they will be the two headline speakers on the closing day of CPAC, which has become a sort of Trump festival in recent years. (Other speakers this year include the pundit Steve Bannon, the pillow executive Mike Lindell and the hard-right congressmen Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz.)

Mr. Milei is likely to be embraced as a right-wing celebrity at the event. His star power among conservatives was already on display this week when Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida visited Buenos Aires. Mr. Milei gave Mr. Rubio a coffee mug with “There’s no money” written on it, and the senator asked him to autograph it.

Mr. Rubio then handed an aide the mug. “Don’t smear this,” he said.

Lucía Cholakian Herrera and Edward Wong contributed reporting from Buenos Aires.

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