War of words at the UN as Britain says Falklands claims are 'rubbish'


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The Independent US

The Argentine Foreign Minister, Hector Timerman, last night accused Britain at the United Nations of using the dispute over the Falkland Islands to escalate the militarisation of the South Atlantic, by sending the latest offensive hardware to the islands as well as nuclear submarines with nuclear payloads.

"All that is complete rubbish," Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's Permanent Representative to the UN, told reporters minutes after Mr Timerman had presented a sequence of slides showing a purported network of British defence interests throughout the South Atlantic. He said Argentina was guilty of escalating diplomatic tensions by making claims about militarisation "based on completely specious facts".

In the first of a series of press conferences in New York, Mr Timerman said, "Britannia rules over the South Atlantic". The region, he said, was the "last refuge of a declining power".

Earlier, Mr Timerman lodged formal protests about alleged British intentions in the region to all the main bodies of the UN and the Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon. He said that the Secretary General had expressed a willingness to help bring both countries to the table to discuss their differences.

"Argentina urges the UK to comply with UN resolutions to sit down at the negotiating table and to refrain from this military escalation they are carrying out in the South Atlantic with the latest warships and war planes, and with nuclear submarines with the capacity to unload nuclear weapons," Mr Timerman said.

Sir Mark insisted that if Britain had military hardware on and around the islands it was a direct consequence of an invasion by Argentina that took place "only 30 years ago". He added: "Nothing has changed in that defence posture in recent months or recent years."

The British envoy did not deny that nuclear weapons-bearing submarines could be in the area, but expressed surprise that Mr Timerman could pretend to know where any British submarine might be. Sir Mark said Britain would be ready to talk to Argentina on a "whole range" of issues to do with the Falkland Islands. But he made it clear that the sovereignty of the islands would not be on the table. "The UK has no intention in imposing any changes in the sovereign status against the wishes of the Falkland Islanders," he said.