Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falklands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London and Buenos Aires and at the UN.
Despite Britain’s close military alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue.
Argentina appealed to the UN Secretary-General last night to intervene in the dispute - a move Britain adamantly opposes.
“The Secretary-General knows about the issue. He is not happy to learn that the situation is worsening,” Jorge Taiana, the Argentine foreign minister, said after meeting Ban Ki Moon, the UN chief, in New York.
“We have asked the Secretary-General, within the framework of his good offices, to stress to Britain the need to abstain from further unilateral acts.”
A top UN aide acknowledged, however, that Mr Ban would not be able to mediate because of Britain’s opposition.
Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s UN ambassador, said: “As British Ministers have made clear, the UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands... We are also clear that the Falkland Islands Government is entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry within its waters, and we support this legitimate business in Falklands’ territory.”
Senior US officials insisted that Washington’s position on the Falklands was one of longstanding neutrality. This is in stark contrast to the public backing and vital intelligence offered by President Reagan to Margaret Thatcher once she had made the decision to recover the islands by force in 1982.
“We are aware not only of the current situation but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality,” a State Department spokesman told The Times.
“The US recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.”
President Reagan’s support for Britain in 1982 “irked a lot of people in Latin America”, Kevin Casas-Zamora, a Brookings Institution analyst and former Vice-President of Costa Rica, said. The Obama Administration “is trying to split the difference as much as it can because it knows that coming round to the British position would once again create a lot of ill will in the region”.
British officials in Washington said that they were comfortable with the US response to the dispute so far, but indicated that any American support for the idea of mediated negotiations would not be well received. It was “wholly up to the islanders whether they want mediation or not”, one official said.
Britain had boosted the islands’ defences since the conflict, Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord, said last night. “Since 1982 we have built a massive runway. We have emplaced forces on the ground, we have sophisticated early warning systems. It is a completely different package, so to compare the way we dealt with the issues in 1982 with today is nonsense,” he added. “
Click to view image: 'Falklands Isles'
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