Menem to visit UK this year

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PRESIDENT Carlos Menem of Argentina is to visit Britain this year in an effort to mend bruised Argentine spirits and to bury for good the hostility between the two countries, 14 years after they went to war over the Falkland Islands.

John Major issued an invitation to Mr Menem when they met last October at the United Nations. But Britain has resisted naming a date for the visit until the two countries have signed a pact to prevent over-fishing in Falkland and Argentine waters.

According to diplomatic sources the precise date is to be announced after the bilateral agreement is concluded on fishery conservation in the South- West Atlantic. Negotiations begin in Buenos Aires on 28 February.

Both the Falkland and the Argentine governments give fishing licences to foreign vessels, including high-technology trawlers from Spain, Japan and South Korea which catch vast amounts of fish and squid.

This activity has raised fears that fish stocks may be endangered, so the British and the Falklanders are keen to get a commitment from Mr Menem that Argentina will not allow this to happen.

"I hope the talks will be over quickly and that we can make arrangements for the presidential visit," said Guido di Tella, the Argentine foreign minister, in London last week.

Last month Argentina co-operated in the establishment of a new airlink between the Falklands and Santiago, the Chilean capital, which will reduce the Falklanders' isolation from South America and help the eventual development of massive oil reserves believed to lie under the sea around the islands.

Mr Menem's visit to London could include a meeting with the Queen. Although he made threats to recapture the islands during his presidential election campaign, he has been wooing Britain hard since he came to power. He ordered the Argentine navy to help in the Gulf war and has sought to have Argentine soldiers serving in former Yugoslavia stationed near British units. He was courteous and attentive towards the Princess of Wales when she made her high profile trip to the Argentine capital last year.

As a Peronist, who pays homage to the late General Juan Domingo Peron, and his glamorous wife Evita, Mr Menem is determined to erase the uncomfortable memories of Evita's tour of Europe in 1947.

She had been invited by Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and Mrs Attlee arranged to have tea with her. But the lowly born Evita wanted to be the guest of the King-Emperor George VI and therefore upstage the snobs of Argentina. When she discovered that the King was going to be out of town she cancelled her trip to London. Mr Menem, the son of poor Syrian emigrants to Argentina is determined that this time a lowly born Peronist leader shall see the inside of Buckingham Palace.