GOTCHA, ALASTAIR; Blair Top Aide's Clanger over the Menem 'Apology'
Maguire, Kevin, Dowdney, Mark, The Mirror (London, England)
LABOUR hardman Alastair Campbell was in the soup last night after Argentine leader Carlos Menem fiercely denied that he had apologised for the Falklands war.
Campbell, Premier Tony Blair's press secretary, arranged for President Menem to write a piece for a downmarket newspaper ahead of his visit to Britain next week.
And Campbell personally approved the paper's front page headline "We're Sorry for Falklands".
But in Buenos Aires yesterday Menem totally rejected The Sun's interpretation of his words. He insisted: "At no time did I say sorry. I was simply referring to a regrettable situation where many lives were lost and blood was spilt.
"But I never said sorry. Sorry is completely different to what I expressed."
Embarrassed Campbell was keeping his head down yesterday as Mr Blair faced a new diplomatic headache.
But a senior Government source fumed: "You can't conduct your foreign policy through the front pages of a newspaper.
"It looks again as if we're completely incompetent in our dealings with other countries."
Downing Street admitted suggesting to Menem that he produce an article that praised the Prime Minister as a "great leader". But it denied writing it.
No10 maintained publicly that it merely gave advice on "stylistic matters" to the Spanish-speaking Government in Buenos Aires.
But insiders said Campbell rewrote an initial draft of Menem's statement which had been prepared by No 10's strategic communications unit.
Buenos Aires made its own changes before No 10 agreed the final version and headline which appeared in The Sun.
Other Whitehall insiders said the statement copied themes in an earlier No 10-inspired piece by Japanese premier Ryutaro Hashimoto.
Last January he agreed to let Campbell pen some soothing words in his name before Emperor Akihito toured Britain. Campbell is said to have assured the Japanese all would be well and planned protests would be called off.
But the stunt inflamed passions and the state visit was a disaster - a flag was burned and old soldiers turned their backs on the emperor in The Mall.
In a TV interview to be broadcast tomorrow, President Menem declines another chance to say sorry.
Quizzed by Sir David Frost whether he thought he had to apologise, the President said: "I suppose those who took part in this conflict will have to admit the mistake that was made, the price that was paid in the loss of lives.
"Let us not forget that there have been worse conflicts, like the Second World War for instance. This is history already. …