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Britain and Argentina have reached a detente over the Falkland Islands, with both sides claiming to have made the first significant progress on the matter since 1999.
The move marks an end to a period during the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, when diplomatic relations with the UK soured as she often tried to use the issue of the Falkland Islands to rally support.
Ms Kirchner’s successor, Mauricio Macri, who took office in December, has looked to repair relations with western powers such as the UK and the US after years of isolation under the Kirchners, who looked for other allies such as China and Russia.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the UK and Argentina said they would seek closer co-operation, including the removal of restrictions on the Falklands’ oil and gas industry. By contrast, a year ago Argentina filed a lawsuit against British oil and gas explorers in the region, saying they were violating its sovereignty.
Sir Alan Duncan, the junior Foreign Office minister who is on a visit to Latin America, spoke of a major “relaunching” of UK-Argentine relations, arguing that after 200 years of ties it could be one of the strongest bilateral relations “in the world” despite a few “bumps in the road”.
The two countries also promised to increase the Falklands’ trade, fishing industry and air links. The territory will be able to set up flight connections with other countries in the region and an additional stop per month will be agreed between the Falklands and Argentina.
Most Argentines do not rank the Falkland Islands as a significant concern, unlike more pressing problems such as inflation, unemployment and crime. But it remains a sensitive and divisive issue: for instance, Argentines were angered when Jeremy Clarkson, the British television presenter, drove around Patagonia in a Porsche whose number plate, H982 FKL, appeared to allude to the 1982 war.
Diplomatic progress has historically been hindered by Argentina’s constitutional commitment to its sovereignty over the islands. Neither the UK nor Argentina changed their position in regards to sovereignty as part of this week’s agreement.
Mr Macri is on a mission to attract foreign investment in order to reactivate Argentina’s stuttering economy. This week he is hosting almost 2,000 local and international business leaders in Buenos Aires to underline that Argentina is once again “open for business”.
The UK-Argentina statement also heralded closer bilateral military co-operation. It endorsed continuing efforts to identify Argentine soldiers killed in the 1982 conflict whose bodies lie in the Darwin cemetery on East Falkland.
“We are a long way from seeing change but I think they are committed to undoing much of what the last [Argentine] government has done,” said Phyl Rendell, chair of the Falklands’ Legislative Assembly.
She said the lack of air links had been “particularly frustrating”, with just one commercial flight a week from Chile and a monthly link to Argentina. “We don’t have enough seats for people to come in — for tourists — and for people to bring fresh fruit and so on.”