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Thursday, October 29, 1998 Published at 17:59 GMT


Blair may relax arms embargo

Menem and Blair: Argentina "treated the same as Iraq"

A further easing of the UK's arms embargo against Argentina is likely after talks between Prime Minister Tony Blair and Argentine President Carlos Menem.

During two hours of talks on Thursday Mr Blair told the Argentine president he would reappraise the embargo "in a positive light".

The ban on arms sales was imposed after the Falklands conflict 16 years ago.

Mr Menem had complained that the current arrangements - which allow flexibility only when his country is engaged in United Nations peacekeeping missions - treated his nation in the same way as Iran or Iraq.

[ image: Reconciliation: President Menem has honoured the Falklands dead]
Reconciliation: President Menem has honoured the Falklands dead
The president had pointed out that Argentina was now a friendly democracy.

While the subject of the Falklands was raised, Mr Blair's official spokesman said each leader simply restated his known position and moved on to other topics.

Mr Blair had stressed that the UK had to be "mindful of our security needs".

He also expressed Britain's concerns about pending Argentinian legislation seeking to establish the country's rights to license oil and fishing operations around the Falklands.

The prime minister concentrated on issues such as trade between the two countries, which has grown from £175m in 1990 when diplomatic links were restored, to about £720m now.

After the USA and Spain, the UK is Argentina's third largest trading partner.

Meeting on the second day of President Menem's historic six-day visit, the two leaders were also focusing on protecting the environment in the South Atlantic.

The prime minister said the impression Mr Menem had made would go a long way to restoring good relations between the two countries and their people.

Agreements signed

The two leaders signed three different agreements, relating to trade, sporting links and the future of relations between their nations.

A joint communique was also issued, pointing to the 200-year-old relationship between Britain and Argentina with "strong human and cultural ties".

The communique said: "Argentine and British companies are recreating, through trade and investment, the commercial relationship that was once one of the most important in the world.

"Britain is again a major trader with and investor in Argentina. In turn Argentina is finding Britain to be an important market for its goods."

Afterwards, President Menem had private talks with Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown and Conservative leader William Hague, as well as meeting the all-party Britain-Argentina parliamentary group.

Later the president will call on Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker of the House of Commons, before attending a dinner hosted by his Ambassador to London, Rogelio Pfirter.

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