A war of words broke out between Britain and Argentina last night after David Cameron accused the South American nation of "colonialism" over its claim to the Falkland Islands.
The Argentinian government retaliated by condemning the Prime Minister's comments as "absolutely offensive".
Diplomatic tensions between the two countries are rising ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict in which British forces defeated an Argentinian occupying force.
The Prime Minister told MPs yesterday that he wanted, in the face of recent rhetoric from Buenos Aires, to send a "strong message" about the islanders' right to decide their own future.
He said: "What the Argentinians have been saying recently, I would argue, is far more like colonialism because these people want to remain British and the Argentinians want them to do something else."
Mr Cameron added: "The absolutely vital point is that we are clear the future of the Falkland Islands is a matter for the people themselves. As long as they want to remain part of the United Kingdom and be British, they should be able to do so."
He disclosed that he had chaired a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the islands in the South Atlantic, explaining he had ordered the discussion to "make sure our defences and everything else is in order".
In an angry response, the Argentinian foreign minister, Florencio Randazzo, retorted that the UK had long acted as a colonial power. He said: "This is absolutely offensive, particularly coming from Great Britain. History clearly shows what their attitude towards the world was."
The Mercosur grouping of countries, which includes Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay, last month announced it would ban ships sailing under the Falkland Islands flag from docking at their ports.
The status of the islands, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas, is a long-standing source of tension between the countries, with Buenos Aires recently stepping up its claims of sovereignty.