Prime Minister David Cameron today confronted Argentina’s president over the Falklands, as the two met on the margins of the G20 summit in Mexico.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner attempted to hand Mr Cameron a package marked “UN – Malvinas” but the Prime Minister refused to accept it.
He told her she should respect the decision of the Falkland Islanders on their future in a referendum to be held next year.
Relations between Britain and Argentina are in the deep freeze after Buenos Aires tried to use the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War to revive its claim on the islands it knows as the Malvinas.
Britain has rejected calls made by Ms Kirchner to the UN decolonisation committee last week for direct talks to discuss the future of the disputed territory in the south Atlantic.
The tension between the countries has been ramped up during this week’s summit after Mr Cameron singled out Argentina for criticism for its protectionist trade policies.
Downing Street aides said the Prime Minister sought out Ms Kirchner to make Britain’s position on the Falklands clear.
Mr Cameron said: “I am not proposing a full discussion now on the Falklands but I hope you have noted that they are holding a referendum and you should respect their views.
“We should believe in self-determination and act as democrats here in the G20.”
Aides said Mr Cameron gave a “clear and calm message” which he repeated three times as his words were interpreted into Spanish.
Ms Kirchner was said to have responded with “ramblings” as she tried to hand the PM the envelope stuffed with documents, but Mr Cameron walked away.
In a speech to a business audience in summit venue Los Cabos yesterday, the Prime Minister said G20 countries should be setting an example to the rest of the world by avoiding protectionism and accused Argentina of failing to do so.
He cited the case of the nationalisation earlier this year of oil company YPF, which is largely owned by Spanish firm Repsol.
“In the last eight months, we’ve seen just in one country the expropriation of a multinational company, requirements that export revenues in oil, gas and mining sectors be exchanged in local financial institutions, new regulations on foreign exchange assets of residents, insurance companies required to repatriate foreign assets and limits imposed on investment in farmland,” said Mr Cameron.
“And that’s just from one G20 member – Argentina.
“We have to do better than this. We all know that keeping the world economy open, keeping the trade rules fair, is absolutely vital for all our countries.
“And frankly, the G20 should be setting an example, not providing an example for the world not to follow.”
Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman called an impromptu press conference in Los Cabos, at which he accused Britain of dodging the opportunity to discuss the Falklands at last week’s meeting of the UN decolonisation committee, only for Mr Cameron to raise it out of the blue today.
He denied that Ms Kirchner was seeking to stage a political stunt by discussing the issue with Mr Cameron in front of an Argentine camera crew.
“The president of Argentina did not seek out Prime Minister Cameron,” said Mr Timerman. “Prime Minister Cameron approached first to talk about the economy and when the Argentine president was talking about the European crisis and the economy, he interrupted her and changed the subject.”
He added: “This is a meeting to talk about the European crisis.
“The one that came forward trying to talk about an issue that wasn’t on the agenda was Prime Minister David Cameron.
“The right time to talk about this issue was last week when the UN summoned the UK and Argentina to talk at the decolonisation committee, and once again Great Britain declined the offer to be there.”
As he left the press conference, Mr Timerman passed a British TV correspondent reporting that Ms Kirchner had used the Los Cabos summit to raise the issue of the Falklands. He paused to tell the correspondent in English: “You lie.”
Challenged during the press conference over why Buenos Aires would not accept the outcome of the war 30 years ago, Mr Timerman said: “Thirty years ago there was a war, 180 years ago there was an invasion by the British of Argentina.
“Great Britain invaded Argentina four times because the ones who are famous around the world for being colonialists are the British, not the Argentines.
“Argentina has always opposed colonialism and it fought against it and we won.”
Mr Timerman said that Britain should accept the UN’s invitation to discuss the Falklands with Argentina at the decolonisation committee.
“The message the president meant to deliver to Prime Minister Cameron was that he should respect the will of the UN,” he said. “Great Britain is a member of the Security Council. What kind of member is Great Britain if it demands that other countries do what the UN says but it doesn’t obey them itself.”
Asked whether Buenos Aires would respect the result of next year’s referendum, Mr Timerman replied: “The Republic of Argentina respects the resolutions of the UN. The Malvinas issue is an issue between Great Britain and Argentina.”