Argentine Leader Arrives in Britain
Oct. 28, 1998
LONDON (AP) _ In a simple ceremony of reconciliation, Argentine President Carlos Menem today laid a wreath at St. Paul's Cathedral to honor the dead of the 1982 war over the still-disputed Falkland Islands.
Menem, the first Argentine president to visit Britain officially since the war, placed the wreath of blue-and-white flowers before a plaque listing the 255 British soldiers slain in the 74-day conflict.
He made the sign of the cross and stood in silence, head bowed, for a minute. His daughter, Zulema, 28, wept by his side, brushing tears away from under her dark glasses.
Most of the 970 soldiers killed were Argentineans, many of them young conscripts sent to the windswept south Atlantic archipelago by the then-military junta.
Prince Andrew, who flew combat missions as a helicopter pilot during the war, saluted during the ceremony, leading a group of military officers and veterans at the service in the crypt of St. Paul's.
The wreath-laying was intended to deflect from the dispute over the Falklands, whose 2,200-strong population is of British descent.
During Menem's six-day visit, officials hope to focus on booming trade and generally good relations with Argentine's democratically elected government.
``We can agree to disagree,'' Argentine Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella said before the service, referring to the Falklands. ``This idea of agreeing to disagree is a very British idea.''
Earlier, Menem, who brought 100 business leaders with him, met British industry chiefs for breakfast.
``The time has come for both nations to leave behind us misunderstandings and mistrust that have separated us for years,'' he told the gathering.
In a letter to a British tabloid Friday, the Argentine president stopped short of an apology, but said he deeply regretted the war and that it ``should never have happened.''
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook noted Tuesday that Menem was a prisoner of the military junta in 1982, was held for five years and tortured.
``The fact that he is the president of Argentina shows how far it has come,'' Cook said.
Menem is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II during his visit.