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Wednesday, October 28, 1998 Published at 19:12 GMT


UK and Argentina heal Falklands rift

Historic handshake: The Queen greets President Menem

James Robbins: Menem still disputes Britain's right to Falklands
Britain and Argentina have moved a step closer to healing the rift caused by the Falklands conflict with a service of remembrance for those who died.

But at a speech on Wednesday evening in London, Argentine President Carlos Menem repeated his country's claim to the Falkland Islands.

In a symbolic gesture on the first day of his historic visit to Britain, President Menem shook hands with Prince Andrew on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. He also invited members of the royal family to visit Argentina.

[ image:
"To the abiding memory of all those who gave their lives"
The president went on to Buckingham Palace for a lunch with the Queen and then to address an audience of politicians and businessmen at Lancaster House in London.

At the remembrance service, President Menem laid a wreath in honour of the 237 British servicemen who were killed in the South Atlantic between April and June 1982.

He placed the wreath of blue flowers, linked with white roses and lilies, beneath a vast slate memorial dedicated "in honour of the South Atlantic Task Force and to the abiding memory of all those who gave their lives".

The act of remembrance in the cathedral crypt saw British and Argentine veterans standing side by side, with Prince Andrew, who flew helicopters for the Royal Navy during the war, standing next to the Argentine veteran, Vicecommodoro Gustavo Aguirre Faguet.

[ image: President Menem and daughter Zulema remember the dead]
President Menem and daughter Zulema remember the dead
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, his shadow Michael Howard, and former Falklands Governor Sir Rex Hunt were among the official British delegation - which also included the wounded and the widowed from the terrible battles that saw Britain recapture the islands.

After the service the Prince and the President walked out onto the steps leading down from the Cathedral's north door and clasped hands in a gesture designed to build good relations between the two countries.

Mr Menem then shook hands with the families of some of those who were killed in the conflict.

Lunch with the Queen

The Argentine President left St Paul's for Buckingham Palace where he and his daughter Zulema had lunch with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

President Menem and Prince Philip inspected a band of Welsh Guardsmen, whose regiment had suffered heavy casualties during the 1982 conflict with Argentina.

But later in the day President Menem restated Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands.

In a speech to politicians, diplomats and businessmen at Lancaster House in London, he said: "As president of the Argentines, I repeat that we are fully convinced of the legitimacy of our historical rights."

[ image: President Menem: Mixed regret with restatement of Argentina's rights]
President Menem: Mixed regret with restatement of Argentina's rights
However he stressed that Argentina would only use peaceful - not military - pressure to achieve its goal.

Addressing the Lancaster House audience, the President spoke of a new spirit of reconciliation between the two countries.

He said that the Falklands conflict was "a war that should not have taken place ... a war that today we all deeply regret".

But he stopped short of apologising for the Argentine invasion of the islands and said he retained a "firm conviction" in the legitimacy of his country's claim to what he called the Malvinas.

President Menem welcomed the development of trade between the UK and Argentina, which reached £735m in 1997.

Mr Menem said: "My visit here is truly guided by a spirit of peace and reconciliation. Without forgetting the past, I now look towards the future."

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