| BUENOS AIRES, March 17
BUENOS AIRES, March 17 Argentina is pushing for
closer ties with Britain ahead of its largest trade mission to
London in two decades later this month by avoiding a historical
point of disagreement: competing sovereignty claims to the
Under President Mauricio Macri both sides have sought common
ground on fishing and flights to the British-held islands some
500 kilometers off Argentina's coast 35 years after Britain won
a brief war over their control.
Argentina has also expressed interest in a bilateral trade
deal as Britain exits the European Union, a conciliatory
approach that contrasts with former President Cristina Fernandez
threatening lawsuits and sanctions on oil companies operating in
"There is a clear difference in the approach of the Macri
government," Mike Summers, a long-time representative of the
Falkland Islands' Legislative Assembly, told Reuters by email.
The change is in line with a promise by Macri, who took
office in December 2015, to open Argentina to the world after 12
years of protectionism. Growing closer to Britain is politically
complicated in a country where recollection remains strong of
the nearly 1,000 lives lost, mostly Argentine, in the 1982 war.
Macri's strategy is to focus on what Argentina calls the 80
percent of issues of common interest between the two countries.
It avoids the other 20 percent, namely the competing sovereignty
claims. Nearly all the 3,000 islanders, 99.8 percent, prefer to
remain a British territory according to a 2013 survey.
An Argentine government source who participated in recent
talks told Reuters the British government also accepts
negotiations that avoid touching on sovereignty claims.
In December, Argentina and Britain agreed on a framework to
identify the bodies of dozens of Argentine soldiers buried on
the islands, known as Islas Malvinas in Argentina.
But Summers said Argentina's government had not yet upheld a
September 2016 agreement to remove restrictions on the oil and
gas, shipping, and fishing industries and introduce new flights
originating from third-party nations.
A spokesman for Chile-based Latam Airlines Group,
which runs the only direct flight from Argentina to the islands,
said the airline had not received any official notification
about a formal intention to introduce new air links.
Looser restrictions on fishing, a primary source of income
for islanders, are more likely and Britain and Argentina could
exchange information to combat illegal catches by Asian
trawlers, a British government source said.
The March 20-24 trade mission to Britain will bring
representatives of a range of sectors including oil and
small-and medium-sized businesses.
With mid-term congressional elections in Argentina scheduled
for later this year, the opposition Peronists may use the
Falklands to rally political support with Argentines who
preferred Fernandez's more nationalist approach.
In one recent episode illustrating the need to tread
carefully, Argentina issued a statement criticizing Brazil for
allowing at least six flights from Brazilian military bases to
the Falklands last year.
A Brazilian diplomatic source told Reuters the flights were
for humanitarian purposes and Argentina had issued the statement
only after opposition lawmakers accessed the information on the
flights and used it to criticize what they called increasing
militarization of the islands.
The British government says the number of troops in the
Falklands has fallen steadily since the April 1982 conflict to
1,200 currently. There were actually fewer flights from Brazil
last year than in 2015, the Argentina statement said.
While some Argentines continue to protest British control
of the islands and rock stars wear T-shirts supporting them,
others want reconciliation. Human rights activist and 1980 Nobel
Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel traveled to the islands
with other activists earlier this month.
"We hope to be able to communicate with the islanders and
for them to come visit the continent ... to see the possibility
of healing wounds," Perez Esquivel said during the trip.
(Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer in Buenos Aires,
Anthony Boadle in Brasilia and Rosalba O'Brien in Santiago;
Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Matthew Lewis)