Agentina and Chile Sign Treaty on Beagle Channel
VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Pope John Paul II, capping his historic six-year mediation effort, joined Argentina and Chile on Thursday in signing a treaty that ends a 200-year-old territorial dispute that brought the two nations to the brink of war.
The treaty of peace and friendship, formally ending a disagreement over the potentially oil-rich Beagle Channel at the tip of South America, was the first concrete diplomatic achievement for John Paul.
It was the first papal mediation of a territorial dispute since Pope Leo XXIII stepped into a Spanish-German controversy over the Caroline Islands in the Pacific in 1885.
The pope and foreign ministers Dante Caputo of Argentina and Jaime del Valle of Chile signed the pact in a ceremony in the Vatican’s Consistory Hall. Caputo and del Valle exchanged instruments of ratification and embraced.
The pontiff, who intervened in the dispute in 1979 at a time when the predominantly Roman Catholic countries moved close to the brink of war, offered a brief prayer and signed three copies of the treaty.
The pope said the two countries, by fashioning ″a complete and definitive solution″ of their conflict through peaceful means, have set an example for other countries to follow.
After pledging Argentina’s support for the treaty, Caputo said failure to settle the foreign debt crisis threatens the viability of Argentina’s democracy and affects ″the peace which we are celebrating today.″
Argentina’s foreign debts total more than $48 billion and Chile’s about $20 billion.
John Paul also expressed his concern over the issue, and called for an international effort to find a solution to ″the enormous external debts″ piled up by both Argentina and Chile.
″I hope once more that in the complex negotiations for this thorny issue ... a new system of solidarity can be found for a satisfactory solution which could bring a more serene future to the countries suffering under this crushing weight,″ the pope said, speaking in Spanish.
Apparently referring to defense spending by the two neighboring countries, John Paul also said the treaty should free ″a large quantity of human and economic resources used until now to cover sectors that you considered unavoidable and of top priority.″
The pope also praised the leaders of the two countries, saying their ″foresight, intelligent interventions and frank and positive contributions″ were essential in overcoming problems that appeared at times insurmountable.
The treaty went into effect in Argentina as soon as it was signed. In Chile, it still has to be promulgated by President Augusto Pinochet, a step considered a formality.
The two countries initialed the agreement at the Vatican on Nov. 29. Argentina approved the treaty on March 14 and Chile on April 11.
Vatican sources have said the signing of the treaty would clear the way for a papal trip to the two countries. But the pope, asked by reporters, said he did not know when he would make the visit.
The Beagle Channel is believed rich in oil reserves, although no exploration is currently under way and both countries lack the technical resources to do it. The strait is about 150 miles long and three to eight miles wide.
The treaty gives Chile sovereignty over Lennox, Picton and Nueva - three islands inhabited by Chilean shepherds at the Atlantic mouth of the channel.
Argentina had feared Chile would gain navigation, seabottom and fishing rights in the Atlantic if its claims to the islands were recognized. But the treaty sharply restricts those rights and appears to preserve Argentine sovereignty in the South Atlantic.