British Prime Minister Tony Blair Wednesday became the first serving Prime Minister to set foot on Argentine soil. He crossed over from neighboring Brazil and expressed support for Argentine President Fernando de la Rua's efforts to pull Argentina back from brink of economic disaster.
With the spectacular Iguazu Falls, as a backdrop, the two men held a 45 minute meeting. Afterwards, Mr. Blair voiced his solidarity with Mr. De la Rua, a fellow center-left politician, and said that while austerity measures taken this week by Argentina were tough, there was no other option. The plan has triggered protests across Argentina.
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. De la Rua traveled to the Brazilian side of the waterfalls for a lunch with Mr. Blair and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Mr. Blair called on the international community to support Argentina, as the country struggles to put an end to over three years of a recession that has sent unemployment rates soaring to nearly 16 and one half percent.
Mr. Blair, along with the leaders of other industrialized nations, is concerned that Argentina's woes could spread to affect the world economy. The sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas and over which the two sides fought a 75-day war in 1982, was not on the agenda of the Blair-De la Rua talks. Mr. Blair told reporters, "what happened in the past is the past," noting that in 1982 Argentina was a military dictatorship while today the country has a vibrant, multi-party democracy. Confirming the thaw in relations between the two countries, Mr. Blair invited the Argentine president to visit Britain.