Hector Timerman came to London to advance Argentina’s diplomatic offensive on the Falkland Islands. But such is the impasse between London and Buenos Aires, he was forced instead make his case from a sofa in his country’s Mayfair embassy.
Attempts by the Argentinian foreign minister to secure a one-on-one meeting with his British counterpart foundered last week on William Hague’s insistence that any discussions on the islands should happen in the company of representatives from Port Stanley.
The refusal of the most senior Argentine minister to visit Britain for several years to even sit down with Falklanders is founded on an insistence - reflected in a 1965 UN resolution - that talks on the islands can only take place between the two sovereign governments.
But behind it is a renewed confidence and increasingly robust belief in Argentina that its cherished goal of wresting Las Malvinas from Britain’s “colonial” grip is within reach as its former enemy’s power and international support wains.
Sat in a well-appointed drawing room in the embassy building a stone’s throw from Claridge’s - and a world away from Westminster’s flat rejection of any negotiations over sovereignty - Mr Timerman told The Independent that the United Kingdom was increasingly isolated on the world stage concerning the Falklands.
Rejecting criticism that Argentina’s flag-waving on the Falklands has been an attempt by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government to distract attention from Argentina’s economic problems, Mr Timerman said the tide had turned against Britain’s administration over islands some 8,000 miles from London.
He said: “I think it is the United Kingdom that is going through an economic crisis and is becoming isolationist, more than Argentina. They want to get out of the European Union, there is a sense here that you want to stop the world and get out.
“That is not the case for Argentina, that is why you have seen so many countries support the Argentinian position. I think we have a very good economic situation right now [so] we can face with much strength the issue of the Malvinas.”
Given that both the United States and the European Union state that they recognise Britain’s “de facto administration” of the Falklands and that any sovereignty dispute must be resolved directly between London and Buenos Aires, observers may view this as an overstatement.
But there is now sign from Argentina’s most senior diplomat of any lowering in the tone of the uncompromising - if not rancorous - rhetoric that has characterised exchanges between the two countries over the Falklands both before and after last year’s 20th anniversary of the 1982 war which claimed more than 900 British and Argentine lives.
Mr Timerman made it clear that the battle for the hearts and minds of the island’s 3,000 residents, who as citizens of a British Overseas Territory have UK citizenship, is not high on Argentina’s list of priorities.
Asked about the significance of next month’s referendum on the islands to ask its inhabitants if they wish to remain British, Mr Timerman said: “It is something that doesn’t mean anything because … it is asking the British citizens of the Malvinas Islands if they want to remain British.”
The foreign minister underlined that under any Argentinian control of the Falklands, its residents, who according to all polls are implacably opposed to any involvement by Buenos Aires in their affairs, the “interests” but not the “wishes” of islanders would be respected.
He said: “The interests are, for instance, their way of life, their right to have their own language, their right to be British subjects. Their wishes can be something they would like to have but they don’t have, even if they want.”
The Argentine minister, a former ambassador to Washington, denied that Buenos Aires was waging a campaign of economic harrassment against the Falklands amid complaints that cruise ships have been effectively barred from visiting the islands, claiming instead that oil exploration off the islands and the granting of 25-year fishing licences were unacceptable “unilateral decisions” by the Port Stanley government.
Mr Timerman, who father Jacobo Timerman was a respected Argentinian journalist who was imprisoned and tortured by the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, underlined that Argentina had foresaken any idea of once more resorting to military force in its quest to reclaim the islands.
Instead, he suggested Britain, with it large garrison on the Falklands and naval presence, was to be suspected of ignoble geo-political designs.
He said: “Argentian is a country that has not been in a war under a democratic government for over 100 years... There is almost one soldier for every two civilians living in the Malvinas. Nowhere else in the world has such a high level of militarisation.
“It is not Argentina that is a military threat to the Malvinas, it is the United Kingdom that is a military threat to Argentina. Why have they so many military personnel down there? There must be a reason - either it is the oil, the resources, Antarctica, but there must be a reason. The reason cannnot be that they are afraid of Argentina.”
Such uncompromising language would seem to make the likelihood of any entente cordiale between London and Buenos Aires unlikely. The reasons for such an impasse is, according to Mr Timerman, lie in only one direction.
He said: “I think the United Kingdom has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to find a solution for the Malvinas.”