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Argentina coming in from the cold, Macri tells AFP

/ 08:25 AM February 23, 2016
Mauricio Macri

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri speaks during a meeting with the Argentine Industrial Union in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. AP File Photo

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Argentine President Mauricio Macri told AFP Monday he is determined to settle with all his country’s foreign creditors and insisted Argentina is returning to the international fold.

In an interview in his office at the Casa Rosada presidential palace, Macri said US President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Argentina in March shows the South American nation is mending its diplomatic ties after years of tension.

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READ: Obama looks to remake ties with Argentina

He said Argentina was determined to reach a settlement with all of Argentina’s foreign creditors despite resistance from major US hedge funds to his latest offer.

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“We feel we have made an enormous effort,” he said. “We have been serious and coherent in our measures to end the dispute.”

Several groups of investors have accepted Argentina’s offer to pay $6.5 billion of the total $9.0 billion owed to them to settle a 15-year dispute.

But major hedge funds NML Capital and Aurelius rejected the offer, pushing for full repayment.

A US-educated businessman, Macri, 57, took the helm of Latin America’s third-biggest economy in December.

His leftist predecessor Cristina Kirchner had refused to pay the hedge funds, branding them “vultures.”

READ: Argentina starts talks with ‘vulture’ creditors

In the lawsuit they launched in a US court, the creditors are known as “holdouts.”

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Deal with US funds

A US judge hearing the case last week gave Argentina partial respite in its court battle with the investors.

He agreed to lift an injunction that had blocked it from paying off other bondholders until it settled with the holdouts.

Argentina hopes that will enable it to start borrowing again on capital markets so it can start clearing all its debts.

“Our aim is to reach an agreement with all the funds. We have been able to settle with a majority,” he said. “The judge noted that. I am still optimistic. The negotiations continue.”

Judge Thomas Griesa agreed to lift the injunction on the condition that Macri repeal an existing debt law.

To do so, Macri must gain approval in a congress still dominated by his opponents.

But he said he was confident he could win over “those who share our view that Argentina must end its conflicts, that it must come back to the world and gain access to financing.”

Obama visit

A pro-business conservative, Macri has made it a priority to mend relations with foreign powers and investors.

He said Obama’s decision to visit Argentina shows the country is mending its diplomatic ties after years of combative relations under his leftist predecessor Cristina Kirchner.

“It signifies a recognition of a change that has taken place in Argentina, towards good relations with the world, relations which must be mature, intelligent and mutually beneficial,” Macri said.

Italian premier Matteo Renzi visited Argentina last week and French President Francois Hollande will do so on Wednesday.

Macri plans to host Hollande in the stadium of Argentine football club Boca Juniors, where Macri used to be chairman.

Obama visits on March 23 and 24 after a historic trip to Cuba.

“We believe this is really a new beginning and a new era in our relations with Argentina,” top Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes said last week.

US, Argentina, human rights

Obama’s visit is expected to increase pressure on the holdout creditors to reach a deal.

His trip is likely to focus on investment in renewable energy, agriculture and tourism, Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra said.

It will coincide with a mass protest by human rights groups and social movements to mark the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought Argentina’s last military dictatorship to power until 1983.

Groups have called on Obama to apologize on behalf of the United States for US support of the regime at the time.

Macri said the date of Obama’s visit was “a total coincidence because it fits in with his visit to Cuba” on March 21-22.

He told AFP there was no plan for the two leaders to visit a museum in memory of the victims of the dictatorship.

“We are aligned with the United States in defending human rights in the region,” he said.

“We both agree on the need to work against drug-trafficking and terrorism and in favor of renewable energy.”

Britain and the Falklands

Macri has rolled back protectionist policies of his predecessors, lifting currency and export controls and eliminating electricity subsidies.

His critics warn such measures will hurt poorer Argentines.

Macri said he is now focused on lowering Argentina’s 30 percent inflation rate to single digits within three years.

However, he maintains Kirchner’s line on the Falkland Islands, known in Spanish as Las Malvinas. He demanded that Britain return them to Argentina, but said he was committed to finding a solution “through dialogue.”

“We will not give up what we believe to be ours, but we are willing to sit down and discuss all topics.”

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TAGS: Argentina, Debt, Diplomacy, US
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