Chirac urged Menem to appease old enemy


Buenos Aires

Carlos Menem, the Argentinian president, has revealed that French leader Jacques Chirac was a prime mover in pushing him to normalise relations with Britain.

In an interview with The Independent before starting a visit to France today, Mr Menem said that, before he became president in 1989, he met Mr Chirac in Paris, where his opposite number was then mayor.

"He told me as ... a longtime politician: `If you want to have good relations with the European countries, you have to normalise your relations with the United Kingdom as soon as you win the elections.'

"This was a time that the EU was pushing towards its integration ... Therefore, soon after I was elected, I sent our then foreign minister to London, urging him to do his best to normalise our relations. And in less than one year, our relations turned from really terrible to really good, which continues today."

Britain was among the major investors in his country, he said, and as further evidence of what he called "very good to excellent" relations, he noted that agreement had been reached on the exploration and production of oil in the South Atlantic, while talks continued for other accords on fisheries.

Asked if the state of "agreeing to disagree" over the Falkland Islands will continue and what, in his view, Britain could do to improve relations, Mr Menem replied with a laugh: "As I said, the relations are already excellent, but they can become even better if they would return the islands to us."