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Argentina: Palestine is free and independent state

Argentina announced Monday that it recognizes the Palestinian territories as a free and independent state within their 1967 borders, a step it said reflects frustration at the slow progress of peace talks with Israel.

President Cristina Fernandez informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the decision, which follows a similar move by Brazil, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said.

Argentina is "deeply frustrated" that the goals of the 1991 peace talks in Madrid and the Oslo Accords of 1993 still have not been reached, Timerman said. "The time has come to recognize Palestine as a free and independent state," he said.

He stressed that Argentina also "ratifies its irrevocable position in favor of the right of Israel to be recognized by everyone and to live in peace and security within its borders."

Argentina has a deep interest in seeing Israelis and Palestinians agree to a deep and lasting peace in the Middle East, Timerman said. "Argentina's decision to recognize the Palestine state is based in the desire of its authorities to favor the process of negotiation aimed at ending the conflict."

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki rejoiced at Argentina's decision, which comes three days after Brazil's recognition. He told The Associated Press on Monday that he expects Uruguay and Paraguay to recognize Palestinian statehood in the next few days, followed by Bolivia and Ecuador.

"It is really symbolic but it is important because the more countries that recognize the Palestinian state, the more pressure this will put on countries that are hesitant and on the peace process. If Israel keeps refusing to recognize the Palestinian state when other countries do, this will make a difference," Malki said.

Timerman said "it's important to note that this Argentine recognition adds to that of more than a hundred states, and reflects a growing consensus in the international community about the status of Palestine and the general interest in achieving decisive advances in the peace process."

The Palestinian Authority opened a diplomatic mission in Buenos Aires in 1996 and in 2008 Argentina installed a representative in Ramallah, the West Bank. In November 2009, Abbas visited with Fernandez in Argentina.

Malki — who had met personally with Argentina's president to encourage recognition — said the authority has been focusing on Latin America.

"Other countries still have doubts and we are seeing how to convince them to recognize the Palestinian state," he said.

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Associated Press Writer Ben Hubbard in Jerusalem contributed to this story.