Argentina seeks better British ties but Falklands claim remains

People walk by a monument of the Falkland Islands, known in Argentina as Islas Malvinas, in Tigre, Argentina, March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Acosta

Argentina is pushing for closer ties with Britain ahead of its largest trade mission to London in two decades later this month by avoiding a historical point of disagreement: competing sovereignty claims to the Falkland Islands.

Under President Mauricio Macri both sides have sought common ground on fishing and flights to the British-held islands some 500 kilometers off Argentina’s coast 35 years after Britain won a brief war over their control.

Argentina has also expressed interest in a bilateral trade deal as Britain exits the European Union, a conciliatory approach that contrasts with former President Cristina Fernandez threatening lawsuits and sanctions on oil companies operating in the Falklands.

“There is a clear difference in the approach of the Macri government,” Mike Summers, a long-time representative of the Falkland Islands’ Legislative Assembly, told Reuters by email.

The change is in line with a promise by Macri, who took office in December 2015, to open Argentina to the world after 12 years of protectionism. Growing closer to Britain is politically complicated in a country where recollection remains strong of the nearly 1,000 lives lost, mostly Argentine, in the 1982 war.

Macri’s strategy is to focus on what Argentina calls the 80 percent of issues of common interest between the two countries. It avoids the other 20 percent, namely the competing sovereignty claims. Nearly all the 3,000 islanders, 99.8 percent, prefer to remain a British territory according to a 2013 survey.

An Argentine government source who participated in recent talks…