Argentina backs off Falklands claim

The Foreign minister tells Phil Davison his views of new Labour

Buenos Aires - Argentinian Foreign Minister Guido di Tella has hinted that Argentina wants to shelve its claim to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and instead seek concrete agreements on trade, tourism, communications and other contacts with the islands.

"We are very flexible. Probably what you think we want, we don't. Maybe the things we want are the things you [Britain] will yield," he said.

"We do not want to run the lives of the islanders. If an agreement is found, I imagine the islanders would hardly notice."

Mr di Tella said he would suggest to the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, that they establish regular meetings at the Foreign Secretary's official residence at Chevening or elsewhere. A meeting with Mr Cook had been scheduled for next week; but it has been postponed due to the Foreign Secretary's busy diary.

The comments follow a meeting earlier this year between Mr di Tella and Malcolm Rifkind, the then Foreign Secretary, where diplomatic sources say the idea of dropping the Argentinian claim was discussed, but did not come to fruition.

"We had a very important meeting in Chevening in January," the Foreign Minister said in his first interview with a British newspaper since Labour's victory. "But it was very near the election so we didn't have time to spell out the positive consequences of that meeting. It was too short a meeting. I think they understood better our views and limitations, and vice versa.

"I hope we will be invited again to Chevening. I had also suggested to Mr [Malcolm] Rifkind [the former Foreign Secretary] that we have week- long meetings on a beach on a beautiful Caribbean island."

Contradicting recent Argentinian press reports, he said he did not foresee a major shift in Falklands policy by the Labour government and would not push Argentina's claim to sovereignty during his talks with Mr Cook. "My aspirations at the first meeting will be much more modest.

"We are fully aware that no British government will ever take a substantive decision on this issue without the approval of the islanders. The islanders have acquired a de facto veto. It's them we have to convince" of the benefits of contacts with Argentina.

However, the islanders are highly resistant to the idea of contacts, and they will hold elections to their legislative council later this year. But diplomatic sources say that they do not rule out some pressure from the Government in London on the Falklands to ease the ban on contacts with Argentina.

"I think we [Britain and Argentina] will reach a plateau relatively soon where we agree to disagree and we allow trade and communications [between Argentina and the islands].

"Britain invented this idea. You agree that disagreement exists and you shake hands. It's a non sequitur, it's just not logical to think that because we want tourists to go back and forth that we are talking about the issue of sovereignty," said Mr di Tella.

Aides to the Foreign Minister, however, later noted that he is acutely aware of not embarrassing the Labour government or giving the conservative opposition ammunition that could delay progress in efforts to reach a Falklands solution.

Press reports earlier this year saying Argentina expected more flexibility from a Labour government backfired from Argentina's point of view and brought a tough rebuttal from Tony Blair's government, the aides said.

"The change in government has meant no change whatsoever in policies. The only difference is that Labour has a majority of over 100 in parliament," Mr di Tella said. "In policies, we don't see any difference between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

"Some people in my country thought that a Labour government would be softer but they were thinking of the old Labour. The new Labour's policies are more similar to the Conservatives' than most people are aware. Kinnock's Labour may have made a difference but Mr Blair's Labour party is more similar to Conservative policies."

When he met the then shadow Foreign Secretary earlier this year, Mr Cook "made it clear, on this [Falklands sovereignty] issue, he would not change British policy. I said all I hope is that you continue British policy. We advanced quite a bit with the Conservatives."

The Foreign Minister said he hoped the Blair government would go ahead with John Major's invitation for the Argentinian President, Carlos Menem, to visit Britain officially for the first time, hopefully next year. "President Menem has visited every important country in the world except Britain," he said.

He also pressed for progress on the Falklands issue before 1999, when Mr Menem - barred from running again - will hand over to a new president. "There probably will be a continuation of the same policy but, if anything, the (Argentinian) line will be harder," he warned.

Mr di Tella described the new British Foreign Secretary as "very sharp, very intelligent, he goes very quickly to the point. I've met him twice before, the last time a month-and-a-half before the elections."

Mr di Tella, known for his so-called "Charm Offensive" of sending Christmas cards and other messages to the Falklanders, is considered aloof and arrogant even by Argentinians. He refused to accept that the Falkland Islanders can't stand him - "they're under peer pressure to say they dislike me but eventually they'll come to appreciate me" - and suggested the Union flag meant less to Britons or Falklanders than his own flag does to Argentinians.

He would not be drawn on Mr Menem's past remarks that the Argentinian flag would fly over the Falklands, even if alongside the Union flag, by 2000.

"This matter of flags. You can go in London and buy panties with the Union Jack. If you do that here with ours, you go to prison for lack of respect," he said, appearing to imply that seeing his flag over the islands would be more symbolic than significant.

Mr di Tella, Foreign Minister for the past six years, compared the lack of communication between Argentina and the islands with the situation between the Koreas or between Taiwan and China. "This position, unfortunately, doesn't give the islanders a good image. In a world where everybody wants to talk to everybody else, some people don't want to talk to a neighbour.

"It's difficult to hate for ever. It's very tiring and then you find you are very tired and you don't know why you hate. It's a bit pitiful, really." He described the islanders as "indeed part of the problem but a significant part of the solution".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - South West

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent