Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

UK rejects Hillary Clinton's help in Falklands dispute

Hillary Clinton: ''We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down''

Downing Street has rejected an offer from the US to help the UK and Argentina resolve their latest dispute over the Falkland Islands.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the offer after renewed tensions were triggered by a UK decision to drill for oil near the islands.

A spokesman for Gordon Brown said he welcomed her comments but did not think her direct involvement was necessary.

Argentina claims sovereignty over the Falklands, which it calls the Malvinas.

It has been angered by the UK's decision to begin drilling for oil under a seabed off the islands.

Mrs Clinton said the row should be resolved between the two, but "if we can be of any help in facilitating such an effort, we stand ready to do so".

'Drilling is legitimate'

However Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman responded to the offer by saying: "We don't think that's necessary.

"We welcome the support of the secretary of state in terms of ensuring that we continue to keep diplomatic channels open but there is no need for that (direct involvement)."

He stressed that "self-determination of Islanders is the key issue" and emphasised that Britain and Argentina have a strong ongoing working relationship.

We're not interested in and have no real role in determining what they decide between the two of them. But we want them talking
Hillary Clinton

However the spokesman also said the UK believed the oil drilling was "both the right thing to do and is entirely legitimate".

Foreign Secretary David Miliband emphasised the point, saying the drilling companies are "wholly within their rights" under international law.

Mr Miliband told MPs at Commons question time: "The government has made it clear it has no doubt about the UK's sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

"There can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the Falkland Islanders so wish it and they have made clear they have no such wish.

Earthquake

"The companies are acting wholly within their rights and wholly within the legality of international law," he added.

Ms Clinton spoke about the situation before she met Argentine President Cristina Fernandez as part of a tour of Latin America.

She is also due to visit Chile - reeling from a massive earthquake which killed more than 700 people - Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

The AP news agency reported that at the meeting, Argentina asked for US help in resolving the dispute.

"What we have requested is mediation as a friendly country of both Argentina and the United Kingdom," it quoted Ms Fernandez as saying.

After the meeting, Mrs Clinton said the US wanted to encourage dialogue but was not offering to act in a mediating role.

Diplomatic offensive

"We're not interested in and have no real role in determining what they decide between the two of them. But we want them talking and we want them trying to resolve the outstanding issues between them," she said.

"We recognise that there are contentious matters that have to be resolved and we hope that they will do so."

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana last week claimed that by drilling in the disputed waters, Britain was a committing a unilateral act contrary to international law.

He asked United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to bring the UK into talks over the sovereignty of the islands.

The UK government says the islands have a "legitimate right" to develop an oil industry within their waters.

Britain has exercised sovereignty in the Falklands since 1833. The islanders are almost all of British descent.

Argentina says it has a right to the islands because it inherited them from the Spanish crown in the early 1800s.

It invaded the islands in 1982, prompting the UK to seize back control in a seven-week war that claimed the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British service personnel.

The current Argentine government has ruled out any military action over the islands, but is stepping up a diplomatic offensive to try to pressure London into negotiations.



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