VATICAN CITY: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has asked her compatriot Pope Francis to mediate in the Falkland Islands' dispute with Britain at the new pontiff's first talks with a head of state, as world leaders fly in for his inauguration mass.
"I asked his intervention to promote dialogue between the two sides," Ms Kirchner told reporters after meeting Latin America's first pope in the Vatican, warning against a growing "militarisation" in the South Atlantic.
Vatican prepares for inaugural mass
The Vatican rolls out the red carpet as one million visitors including 150 diplomatic delegations are expected to attend the Pope's inaugural mass.
Ms Kirchner noted that Pope John Paul II had mediated in a dispute between Argentina and Chile, when the two countries nearly went to war over the islands of the Beagle channel in 1978.
Argentine media have quoted Francis, former archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio, as telling reporters in 2011 that the Falklands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina, were "ours".
British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday he "respectfully" disagreed with those comments. In a referendum this month, 99.8 per cent of the Falkland Islands' inhabitants voted to remain British.
The sparsely populated archipelago triggered a war between Britain and Argentina in 1982.
"We have a very different historic opportunity now, much more favourable. In both countries, Britain and Argentina, there are democracies," Ms Kirchner said.
The new pope, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, had testy relations with Ms Kirchner, particularly over legislation on gay marriage, abortion and transsexual identity.
Ms Kirchner's late husband, Nestor, had called Cardinal Bergoglio "the true head of the opposition" because of his behind-the-scenes meetings with political leaders.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will be formally inaugurated on Tuesday at a mass in St Peter's Square, with the Vatican saying hundreds of thousands of people are expected.
Francis will receive the papal pallium – a strip of wool worn over the shoulders – and the traditional "Fisherman's Ring" bearing an image of St Peter, the first pope.
In what is being seen as another sign of the new pope's more modest tastes, the ring will be gold-plated silver instead of the pure gold usually used for this emblem of papal power.
We have a very different historic opportunity now, much more favourable.Cristina Kirchner, Argentine President
The mass will be preceded by a tour of the square by the Pope. It will be co-celebrated by scores of senior church figures as well as prelates from the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said 132 foreign delegations will attend, including 31 presidents, 11 heads of government and six kings and queens.