CRISTINA Kirchner, the Argentinian president, has appealed to Pope Francis to intervene in the diplomatic war over the Falkland Islands as she condemned the "British militarisation of the south Atlantic".
She became the first foreign head of state to meet the Pope, a fellow Argentine, when she was granted a private audience in the Vatican a day before he is formally inaugurated.
"I asked for his intervention to promote dialogue between the two sides and to avoid problems that could arise from the British militarisation of the south Atlantic," she said at a press conference in Rome.
"We want a dialogue and that's why we asked the Pope to intervene, so that the dialogue is successful."
A Vatican spokesman said he would make no comment on Ms Kirchner's remarks, 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.
She noted that Pope John Paul II had mediated in a conflict between Argentina and Chile in 1978. She said the two countries had both been governed by military dictatorships at the time.
"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."
Ms Kirchner had lunch with Francis, the first Pope from outside Europe in more than 1,300 years, at the Casa Santa Marta, a Vatican 'hotel' where he is staying while renovations are made to the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.
Her remarks were the latest expression of the vociferous campaign regarding ownership of the Falkland Islands.
In a referendum this month, 99.8pc of the islanders voted to remain under British control, but Ms Kirchner compared the islanders to "squatters".
During a Mass in April last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands conflict, the then Cardinal Bergoglio called for the vindication of the soldiers who fought against Britain. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, said he had been wrong to say that Britain had "usurped" the disputed islands from Argentina.
Before he was made Pope, the cardinal clashed with Mrs Kirchner and her government over issues such as gay marriage, contraception and mandatory sex education.
Yesterday, though, they called a truce, with Ms Kirchner giving the Pope a mate gourd to hold traditional Argentine tea. In return, he gave her a kiss. "Never in my life has a Pope kissed me!" she excalimed.
Ms Kirchner arrived in Rome with a delegation of 19 for today's inauguration in an open-air Mass in St Peter's Square. (© Daily Telegraph, London)