LONDON (Reuters) - Argentina’s new ambassador to London ambushed Britain’s foreign minister over the disputed Falklands Islands on Monday, asking him at a public meeting whether he was ready to “give peace a chance” by opening talks on the islands’ future.
Alicia Castro, formerly Argentina’s ambassador to Venezuela, took up her post in London in March, just as tensions escalated between Britain and Argentina 30 years after they went to war over the South Atlantic islands, known in Spanish as Las Malvinas.
Castro’s appointment to a post left vacant since 2008 is part of a drive by Buenos Aires to push the Falklands issue back up the international agenda.
Setting aside diplomatic niceties, Castro tackled British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the subject as he launched Britain’s annual world review of human rights at a ceremony attended by diplomats, journalists and rights activists in the opulent surroundings of Lancaster House in London.
“Seeing that the United Nations and the international community and a large group of Nobel prize winners urge both countries to (start) negotiations in order to find a pacific and permanent resolution, my question is: Are you ready for dialogue? Are we going to give peace a chance?” she asked as Hague took questions from the audience.
A flustered Hague, sensing that Castro was about to make a long statement, interrupted her several times, pressing her to ask a question before cutting her short with: “Thank you. That’s enough. Stop.”
President Cristina Fernandez has launched a wide-ranging diplomatic offensive to assert Argentina’s claims to the islands, accusing Britain of maintaining “colonial enclaves” and calling on London to open sovereignty talks.
Britain says it will agree to talks only if the 3,000 islanders want them - something they show no sign of doing.
Answering Castro, Hague said: “Self-determination is a basic political right of the people of the Falkland Islands ... You can count on us always, permanently, to stand by that right.”
After Argentina invaded on April 2, 1982, Britain sent a naval task force and recaptured the islands after a 10-week war, with the loss of 255 British and 650 Argentine lives.
In the run-up to this year’s 30th anniversary of the war, Argentina has protested to the United Nations over British “militarization” of the South Atlantic and has threatened to sue companies involved in oil exploration off the Falklands.
Argentine sculptor Adolfo Perez Esquivel and six other Nobel peace laureates last month signed a letter urging Britain to negotiate on the sovereignty of the Falklands.
Castro told reporters later that Hague had not answered her question. “You cannot say that you are so good at human rights and democracy if you are not open for dialogue,” she said.
Self-determination did not apply to the Falkland islanders, she said. “Self-determination is not a right that every country has or every population has. A province in my country cannot decide if they want to belong to China,” she said.
Asked if she intended to make a habit of appearing at Hague’s public events to ask him about the Falklands, Castro laughed and said: “You wait and see”.
Castro met a junior British foreign minister, Jeremy Browne, last week and handed over notes requesting talks with Britain on air links with the Falklands and South Atlantic fisheries.
Britain maintains that the Falklands are self-governing and that Argentina must talk to the islanders about such matters.
London has controlled the islands since 1833. Argentina has claimed the territory since that date, saying it inherited it from Spain on independence and that Britain expelled an Argentine population from the islands.
Reporting by Adrian Croft Editing by Maria Golovnina