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09/30/2013

Diplomacy: 0. Soccer: 1.

Falklands.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoThe Union Jack flies over the Falkland Islands. Argentina claims the islands in a dispute with Great Britain but recently stumbled into a dust-up with Spain. (Daniel Garcia / AFP/Getty Images.)

As someone – possibly P.T. Barnum – once said: “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.”

Unfortunately, in this case, the Argentines spelled the name wrong.

The name of the Spanish foreign minister is not José María Margallo – as Argentine bureaucrats wrote in a press release in late September – but José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil.

So that was an embarrassing mistake.

But it gets worse.

In this case, it turns out that the Spaniards do care what the Argentines are saying about them, with or without the misspelling of names.

Here is what happened.

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York recently, the Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman and his Spanish counterpart met to discuss the South Americans’ longstanding claim to the remote Falkland Islands, known as the Islas Malvinas in Spanish.

No surprise there.

The islands have resided in British hands since 1833, and the Argentines have been damned mad about it for just about as long. Thirty-one years ago, the dispute erupted in a 19th-Century-style expeditionary war that might almost have seemed comical, had it not been so deadly. In all, 258 British troops and 649 Argentines lost their lives in that conflict, which saw Britain restore its jurisdiction over the islands.

Nowadays, the fracas continues, albeit peacefully.

Meanwhile, Madrid has also been embroiled in a territorial dispute with London, and for even longer, ever since Britain assumed control of a Mediterranean rock called Gibraltar, following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

No one should be surprised that Argentina and Spain might detect a common interest here, both of them laying claim to local parcels of terra firma that find themselves under British sovereignty. In fact, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have both spoken out publicly about their not-dissimilar custody disputes with Her Royal Highness the Queen.

But that’s one thing.

The press release issued recently by the Argentine Foreign Ministry went further, declaring that the governments of the two countries also plan to undertake unspecified “joint measures” aimed at pressuring London to negotiate the future of the disputed territories.

Well, now …

This was going a good bit further than the Kingdom of Spain was prepared to go, at least in public, and a Spanish government source said as much and sharply.

“Spain considers the United Kingdom a friend,” the source told Madrid newspaper El País.

As for a passel of red-faced bureaucrats in Buenos Aires, maybe this would be a good time to change the subject. Try to make people forget about the Islas Malvinas, at least for now, and concentrate on – oh, let’s say – soccer.

For example, this sensational over-the-shoulders goal by César Pereyra of Belgrano in their recent match against Racing Club de Avellaneda.

And remember to check the spelling of those names.

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.

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And just what is the value of these islands to any of them?

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