The Presidents of Brazil and Argentina signed a nuclear pact Friday that is being called ``the most important'' accord ever reached between the two nations. The pact commits the countries to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to regular exchanges of information on technology, with the aim of allaying fears that either seeks to develop nuclear weapons.
Argentine President Ra'ul Alfons'in said the pact ``should end definitely any suspicion that the two countries are working together to use nuclear technology for anything other than peaceful means.''
Mr. Alfons'in added that the two nations are considering seeking the adoption of a Latin American nonproliferation treaty that would be modeled after the Tlatelolco nuclear agreement.
Brazil and Argentina have had tense relations for decades - mainly rooted in the fear of a possible military attack.
But with Alfons'in ushering in a return to democracy in 1983 and Brazilian President Jos'e Sarney ending 21 years of military rule in 1985, both leaders have proclaimed the two countries will benefit from being friends rather than foes.
Argentina and Brazil have within the past three years signed a number of agreements to boost trade and to increase the sharing of technology between South America's two largest powers.
In their fifth meeting in three years, Alfons'in and Mr. Sarney also initialed an accord allowing each country to export 5,000 automobiles to the other duty free and eliminating import tariffs on dozens of food products. They also extended steel and biotechnology agreements.
Since the Presidents' first meeting in 1985, bilateral trade has risen substantially, reaching $1.4 billion last year.
But commerce has slowed recently, with both countries suffering from stagflation and the need to conserve dollars in order to make foreign debt payments.
In their efforts to forge closer links, they have set what many hope will be an example to other South American nations of the mutual benefits from increased economic and political cooperation. Their steps toward more economic integration have been viewed with enthusiasm, particularly by Argentine businessmen seeking larger markets as a way to stimulate the sluggish domestic economy.
The two leaders also met last week with Uruguayan President Julio Sanguinetti, who has become a regular participant at discussions on regional economic integration held at the Brazil-Argentina summits.