ROME (Reuters) - Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez has asked Pope Francis to intervene in support of Buenos Aires in a dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.
Fernandez had lunch with the former Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio in the Vatican shortly after arriving in Rome to attend his inaugural papal mass on Tuesday.
“I asked for his intervention on the question of the Malvinas,” she told reporters afterwards, using the Argentinian name for the islands.
Fernandez added that she hoped that Francis could help “to avoid problems that might emerge from the militarization of Great Britain in the south Atlantic”.
A Vatican spokesman said he would make no comment on Fernandez’s remarks on Monday, but the Holy See may be irritated by an attempt so early in the papacy to draw Francis into a political dispute - which popes traditionally avoid.
Fernandez, who has led Argentina for six years, has mounted an increasingly vocal campaign to renegotiate the sovereignty of the archipelago, which Britain has resisted, causing a series of diplomatic rows.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, had been wrong to say in 2012 when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires that Britain had “usurped” the disputed islands from Argentina.
The year before Bergoglio said that the islands were “ours”, a view which most Argentinians share.
Cameron said the people of the islands had made their view clear in a referendum last week in which they overwhelmingly voted in favor of remaining British.
Argentina is 300 miles to the west of the islands, which it has claimed for almost 200 years. In 1982 Argentina invaded but was repelled after a 74-day war with Britain.
The left-leaning Fernandez, and her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner have had a frosty relationship with Bergoglio, whom they have accused of taking sides with the opposition against them.
Some analysts say that Bergoglio’s surprise election as pope last week at a conclave where he was not even mentioned on media lists of the favorites, had wrong-footed Fernandez, who would now want to patch up ties with the Roman Catholic Church before mid-term elections in October.
Bergoglio’s election caused mass emotional rejoicing in Argentina.
Fernandez wore a black suit, white pearls and a brimmed hat with a matching bow for the meeting with Francis. They exchanged several gifts and kissed each other on the cheeks.
The Fernandez gifts included a metal cup and straw for drinking mate, a traditional Argentinian tea that the pope is known to like. He gave her a 17th century mosaic of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“I have never been kissed by a pope before,” she told journalists.
Fernandez said she hoped Francis could emulate Pope John Paul II, who helped to resolve a territorial dispute between Argentina and Chile, when they were both ruled by military governments.
“There was a very difficult situation in 1978 when Argentina and Chile were almost at war and then John Paul II intervened and helped bring the two countries closer,” she told reporters.
“Now the situation is different because Britain and Argentina are two democratic countries with governments elected by the people. The only thing we ask is that we can sit down and negotiate.”
Reporting by Gavin Jones; writing by Barry Moody; editing by Giles Elgood