Menem sees UK visit as step closer to Falklands goal

PHIL DAVISON

Latin America Correspondent

The meeting between John Major and the Argentine President, Carlos Menem, on the fringes of the United Nations New York birthday party, has been billed in Buenos Aires as a giant leap and a "breakthrough" for Mr Menem.

Not only did he get his longtime wish - an invitation, though hardly a hearty one, and deliberately imprecise, to visit London - but the President sees every step closer to Britain as a step closer to gaining the Falkland Islands peacefully.

"Menem's got his visa," said a headline in yesterday's daily Pagina 12. "Next year to London," said another paper, Clarin, which quoted Mr Menem as saying after the meeting that "we hope that some time in the not too distant future, sovereignty [over the islands] might be discussed."

Although London and Buenos Aires stressed sovereignty was neither on nor near the table in New York, most Falklanders believed it was most definitely on Mr Menem's mind. Many expressed fears that the Prime Minister may be worn down by Mr Menem's slick style and that he may head down "the appeasement road."

"We always believe there are hidden agendas at the highest level," said an islander and former councillor, Terry Peck. "I don't think Major's a very strong character but there's no question in our minds that Menem's a shrewd operator, and [Argentine Foreign Minister Guido] di Tella likewise. They've played on our nerves for many years."

Mr Menem has asked Mr di Tella to "persuade" the Falklanders that Argentine sovereignty would be in their best interests, according to a government source in Buenos Aires. One idea would be for joint sovereignty "until the islanders get used to the idea and realise that we have their best interests at heart," the source said.

Another idea, publicly acknowledged by Mr Menem and Mr di Tella, is to offer the islanders' "compensation", which was last estimated at $500,000 (pounds 310,000) per head for the 2,000 islanders, in return for accepting Argentine sovereignty. The Falklanders have rejected the idea.

"Sovereignty is not negotiable," Mr Peck said. "I'd never, ever, support joint flags and I think I can speak for 90 percent of islanders. There's no way people here would trust the Argentinians. But if there's oil in these waters, it's money that's going to talk. When oil is involved, 2,000 people don't count for one iota."

Mr Menem has been pushing aggressively for closer ties with Britain this year, particularly since his re-election to a second term in May. As far back as February, the daily Clarin said British Gas officials were pressuring Mr Major to invite Mr Menem to London.

The newspaper said thatBritish Gas and the Argentine national oil company, YPF, had reached a "verbal" agreement on oil exploration in Falklands waters. Confirming the deal, Mr Menem said that "this delivers enormous possibilities and advances to Argentina in the conflict for the Malvinas [Falklands]." London and Buenos Aires played down the oil deal report at the time, but in September the two governments signed an agreement for oil prospecting and exploration.

British diplomats said that Mr Major and Mr Menem had agreed also that experts from both countries should reach an agreement on regulating squid catches in the waters between the Falklands and Argentina. An initial meeting would be held in Buenos Aires next month, they said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific