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Argentina president to head off on European tour to discuss debt

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez will begin his first tour of Europe on Wednesday with a visit to the Vatican, after which he will concentrate on trying to renegotiate the South American country’s burdensome national debt.

“We’re going to the European countries, as well as to visit his Holiness, to visit Western leaders,” said Foreign Minister Felipe Sola.

“Because we’re close, because we want to know what they think of our country and because Argentina is in the midst of a complex negotiation, essential for our future, and they all have a seat at the IMF.”

The main debt Fernandez wants to renegotiate is $44 billion borrowed from the International Monetary Fund over the last 18 months.

It is a sizeable part of Argentina’s $335 billion external debt, which amounts to over 90 percent of its GDP.

Fernandez’s first stop will be the Vatican to meet his compatriot Pope Francis on January 31.

“He’s a moral leader in the world. We thank him very much (for the meeting), he’s a model of behavior,” said Fernandez.

He will then meet with the World Food Programme, headquartered in Rome, as well as Italy President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

From there he has appointments with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, King Philip IV of Spain and President Pedro Sanchez, and France’s President Emmanuel Macron as his tour takes him from Berlin to Paris via Madrid.

“France is an important investor in Argentina. French companies are starting to take an interest in lithium” deposits in the north of the country, said Fernandez.

Fernandez’s European tour comes after his first official presidential trip last week when he attended the 75th anniversary Holocaust commemorations in Israel, where he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The main aim for his European tour, though, is “to improve Argentina’s position in the debt renegotiation,” political analyst Rosendo Fraga said.

“We don’t want to be outside the world,” Fernandez told C5N television station.

“We’re a country that needs the world’s help and that’s what we’ll tell the world’s leaders.”

Fernandez assumed power in December, inheriting an economic crisis that began 18 months ago with a currency collapse. The country is blighted by 40 percent poverty and one of the highest rates of inflation in the world, almost 54 percent in 2019.