BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s president said on Thursday she wants her country’s flag carrier to fly to the disputed Falkland Islands and she will seek to renegotiate an accord with Britain that allows flights from Chile.
Diplomatic tensions have surged in recent months ahead of the 30th anniversary of the brief war the two countries fought over the remote islands in 1982, fuelling speculation about the future of the Falklands’ only regular commercial air link.
According to an agreement between Argentina and Britain signed in 1999, Chilean airline LAN LAN.SN has offered a weekly flight between Chile and the British-controlled South Atlantic archipelago.
“We’re going to ask for negotiations in order to have ... flights leaving from mainland Argentina - Buenos Aires - to the islands in our flag carrier, Aerolineas Argentinas,” President Cristina Fernandez said in a speech to Congress.
Fernandez, who started her political career in Patagonia, where nationalist feeling about the nearby islands is especially strong, said she had asked had Aerolineas Argentinas to make plans to fly to the Falklands.
“What we want to demonstrate clearly is that our interest is in U.N. resolutions being met and that we’re not out to harm any community, neither the islands ... nor the British, Latin Americans or anyone else,” she said.
Britain’s Foreign Office said any discussion of the flights was a matter for the Falkland Islands government to consider.
“If Argentina is keen to promote air links between the continent and the islands, it should reconsider its ban on charter flights through its airspace.
“(Argentina’s) current policy of seeking to isolate and dictate to the Falkland Islanders, from the harassment of fishing vessels to the closure of shipping ports is indefensible and will not succeed,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
“It would be deeply disappointing and utterly unjustifiable if Argentina put pressure on this flight to be suspended.”
Fernandez, who nationalized Aerolineas Argentinas in 2008, has previously threatened to consider withdrawing permission for the Lan flight to pass through Argentine airspace because of Britain’s refusal to negotiate the sovereignty of the islands.
Thursday’s announcement appears to mark a change in her government’s strategy.
London has refused to start talks demanded by Buenos Aires on the islands’ sovereignty unless the roughly 3,000 Falklands residents call for them, which they show no signs of doing.
The Lan flights currently stop once a month in Rio Gallegos, a town in southern Argentina, a measure that was agreed upon to allow Argentine war veterans and families of servicemen killed in the conflict to visit the islands.
Diplomatic tensions over the Falklands, which Argentines call the Malvinas, have increased in recent years over offshore oil exploration by British companies off the islands’ coast.
In recent months, officials in London and Buenos Aires have engaged in an increasingly testy war of words.
Britain summoned Argentina’s envoy on Wednesday to explain a minister’s proposed boycott of British goods and a decision to stop two cruise ships from docking in the country earlier this week.
Argentina complained to the United Nations this month over what it called Britain’s “militarization” of the South Atlantic and both countries have traded accusations of “colonialism” over their sovereignty claim on the Falklands.
Nearly 30 years after the war, the islands remain a potent national symbol in Argentina, although the decision to land in the territory on April 2, 1982, is widely seen as a mistake by the discredited military dictatorship ruling at the time.
More than 900 troops, most of them Argentine, were killed in the 10-week war that started on April 2, 1982. Fernandez has repeatedly ruled out the use of military force to press Argentina’s claim over the islands.
Additional reporting by Juliana Castilla in Buenos Aires and Tim Castle in London; editing by Todd Eastham