Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Kirchner raises Falklands with Pope

Pope Francis meets Argentine president Cristina Fernandez at the Vatican (L'Osservatore Romano/AP)

Pope Francis's diplomatic skills have been put to the test by his political nemesis Argentine president Cristina Kirchner asking him to intervene over the Falklands Islands.

The Vatican did not say if Argentine-born Francis would accept her request, which was made during his inaugural audience with a visiting head of state on the eve of his installation as pope.

Francis and Mrs Kirchner are long-time rivals: As leader of Argentina's Catholics, he had accused her populist government of demagoguery, while she called his position on gay adoptions reminiscent of the Middle Ages and the Inquisition.

But where the Falklands are concerned, Francis has been quoted as saying that Britain "usurped" the islands. Earlier this month, the islanders voted overwhelmingly to remain a British Overseas Territory.

Mrs Kirchner said she had asked for Francis' intercession to "facilitate dialogue" with Britain over the islands.

Just last week British Prime Minister David Cameron said he did not agree with Francis' views on the Falklands.

In asking Francis to intervene, Mrs Kirchner said she recalled how Pope John Paul II averted war in 1978 between Argentina and Chile over three tiny islands in the Beagle Channel at the southern tip of South America.

Mrs Kirchner also gave the new pope a gourd and straw, to hold the traditional Argentine tea that Francis loves, and he gave her a kiss.

"Never in my life has a pope kissed me!" she said afterwards.

Mrs Kirchner called on the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires at his temporary home, the Vatican hotel, a day before she and other world leaders attend his installation Mass in St Peter's Square which could bring a million people to Rome.

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