Leading Article: After war war, let's try jaw jaw

Click to follow
THE COMMENT by the Foreign Secretary that "there is going to be no discussion, negotiations or debate" about the sovereignty of the Falklands during President Menem's visit was, of course, inevitable. No ambitious politician can afford to take the "unpatriotic" tack and look "soft" on the Falklands. Downing Street's botched attempt to smooth over the issue by planting an "apology" in The Sun that wasn't by Menem, and embarrassment over the arrest of General Pinochet, demonstrate the hazards. Our folk memory of the conflict of 16 years ago remains painful.

But this is a pity, not least for the islanders themselves. There are practical questions about the long-term future of the Falklands, for example on oil exploration and economic development. The question of political status overshadows these and creates a climate of uncertainty.

Argentina, it must be said, has a perfectly legitimate right to pursue its claim on sovereignty for the islands by diplomatic and political routes. No one can seriously object to a British dialogue with Argentina in which both nations honourably present their case and recognise their differences. It may be, initially, a seemingly futile dialogue, a conversation of the deaf. But it is still far preferable to the alternative and, one day, may even lead to the kind of imaginative, bold initiatives that have been seen, in different circumstances, in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Africa.

The islanders' wishes remain the ultimate deciding factor. There is no question of simply giving up the Falklands. What is important is, as the Foreign Secretary says, "how we achieve a mature, strong, healthy relationship between two democracies". Central to that relationship has to be, in the long term, some agreement on the Falklands. It cannot be ignored or wished away.

It will do us - and the Falkland Islanders - no harm to recognise that the best possible solution would be a negotiated settlement between all interested parties, sharing sovereignty and/or resources. It may sound far-fetched, but the spirit of the South Atlantic has achieved the near- impossible before.