So tell us Mick, what do you think about the Falklands?

When President Carlos Menem visits Britain later this year, the fate of what Argentina calls the Malvinas will top the agenda, writes Andrew Marshall
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The Independent Online
IT'S A hazard facing any big-name visitor to Argentina. As the Rolling Stones held a press conference to launch last week's sell-out concerts at the River stadium in Buenos Aires, along with all the usual questions about rock and roll came the real crunch: what did Mick Jagger think about the Falklands War?

It's probably not a question that he'd thought much about for the last decade and a half, but he had to give an answer anyway. The Argentine press reported that he'd said the war was "futile"; the official version is that he said it was "sad", something that most people could probably agree on.

The Lord Mayor of London, here two weeks ago, got asked the same question. It is not that all Argentines are obsessed with the 1982 war over what they call the Malvinas, and regard as their territory. The average visitor from Britain is unlikely to find any animosity. But the issue is always there: and therein lies a problem.

Diplomatic ties were restored in 1989, trade is booming and British firms are pouring back into Argentina. Yet despite nine years of steadily- improving relations, there is still a great asymmetry. Britain is pleased to carry on as now, with no change on the Falklands; Buenos Aires wants action - for it, the status quo is quite unacceptable.

Later this year, Carlos Saul Menem, the political phenomenon who has been President of Argentina since 1989, will visit Britain, and the subject is bound to be raised with Tony Blair. Mr Menem has (perhaps unwisely) promised that by 2000, Argentina will be back in the islands, and he needs a political boost at the moment. His visit, expected to be in November, will inevitably raise expectations in Argentina that progress can be made on their claim.

The Foreign Office is absolutely clear that there can't be any discussions about sovereignty at all, not now, or when Mr Menem visits.

That said, Mr Menem and his Anglophile Foreign Minister, Guido Di Tella, have made giant steps in restoring the once close link with Britain. Last year there was an intriguing development when a secret meeting was held at Chevening, the Foreign Secretary's country pad, between Malcolm Rifkind, then Foreign Secretary, Mr Di Tella, and councillors from the Falklands. There were high hopes of a breakthrough, but in the end, nothing was achieved.

So when Mr Menem visits Britain, he is likely to sing "(I can't get no) Satisfaction"; while Britain might hum "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

But as the Rolling Stones noted in that song, "If you try, sometimes you might just get what you need". A lot of energy is being expended on delivering something which will prove British good will, while underlining that the position on sovereignty cannot change.

At the moment, the Falkland Islanders themselves - for whom the war is anything but a distant memory - are opposed to any visit by Argentines except those visiting war graves. But it may be that that this position will be eased somewhat - perhaps to allow an Argentine press party to visit and remove some of the preconceptions that persist in Argentina about the islanders.

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