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Argentina Asks US for 'Friendly Mediation' in Islands Dispute


Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner urged the United States on Monday to engage in "friendly mediation" between Argentina and Britain in their dispute over the Falkland or Malvinas Islands off the southern Argentine coast. The request came at a meeting in Buenos Aires with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is making it clear that the United States supports direct dialogue between Britain and Argentina in the islands dispute that triggered a brief war between the two countries in 1982. But she is side-stepping an unusual public request by the Argentine leader for the United States to mediate the issue.

The Falklands issue has been largely dormant for more than two decades after Britain routed an Argentine invasion force from the remote islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas.

But the territorial dispute has heated up again in recent months, with Argentina protesting preparations by a British firm to drill for oil around the islands.

At press event with Clinton at the Argentine presidential residence, the Casa Rosada, Ms. Kirchner called for "friendly mediation" by the United States, which has good relations with both parties and has a policy of neutrality on the islands' status.

Clinton said earlier Monday in Uruguay that the United States is ready to be of assistance to the parties, but standing alongside the Argentine leader she pointedly did not embrace mediation.

"We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed," she said. "So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place."

Clinton scheduled her overnight stop in Buenos Aires after scrapping plans for a day-long visit to Chile in the wake of that country's massive earthquake on Saturday.

Instead, Clinton will visit Santiago airport for only a few hours Tuesday morning to meet Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera in a show of solidarity.

She will also deliver about 20 satellite telephones and related equipment in response to a request from Chilean authorities who are having communications problems in remote areas hard-hit by the quake.

Clinton attended Monday's inauguration of Uruguay's new president, Jose Mujica, in a gesture underlining the Obama administration's commitment to good relations with Latin American leaders from across the political spectrum - including left-wing leaders like Mr. Mujica.

Clinton's visit to Buenos Aires is in a similar vein, with President Kirchner having recently joined Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in criticizing the U.S. administration's approach to Latin America.

The Argentine leader said she and the U.S. secretary of state still disagree over last year's coup in Honduras, in which Argentina has pressed for the restoration of power of former President Manuel Zelaya.

Clinton said subsequent elections have put Honduras back on a democratic path.

"The free and fair elections which have elected the new president in Honduras mean it's time to turn the page," she said. "The difficult period Honduras went through, we hope, is now over."

The secretary of state says she will press in meetings on her six-nation Latin American trip for the return of Honduras to regional fora, including the Organization of American States, from which it was suspended last year.

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