Falklands: Spat As Argentina Ditches Talks

Argentina's foreign minister has pulled out of talks with William Hague over the future of the Falklands after the Foreign Secretary insisted islanders should also be present.

Representatives of the Falklands Islands government were flying to London this weekend to tell Hector Timerman that Buenos Aires should respect islanders' rights and leave them in peace.

But Mr Timerman had initially asked for one-to-one talks with the Foreign Secretary and promptly cancelled their meeting because Argentina does not recognise the island government's legitimacy.

He insisted that the United Nations saw the dispute over the islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas, as a bilateral issue between Buenos Aires and London.

And he pointedly said that he was sorry Mr Hague "can't meet without the supervision of the colonists from the Malvinas".

Mr Timerman invited the Foreign Secretary to meet him in Buenos Aires instead, where he said "my fellow foreign ministers can freely meet with whomever they wish without being pressured or having their presence conditioned on meetings that they haven't asked for and don't interest them".

The spat is the latest development in the row over the future of the islands - which Argentina's president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner insists should come under its sovereignty.

She launched adverts in British newspapers last month claiming Argentina had been stripped of the islands in "a blatant exercise of 19th century colonialism".

Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly insisted the residents of the Falklands must decide their own future and a referendum on the islands' political status is to be held in March.

In a statement released before Mr Timerman turned down the meeting, the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands stressed that their representatives, Dick Sawle and Jan Cheek, would not be "negotiating any deal".

"Rather we are anticipating a full and frank exchange of views," the assembly said. "Indeed we look forward to giving Mr Timerman some very direct messages on the unacceptability of Argentina's actions against the Falkland Islands in recent years.

"We demand that our rights be respected, and that we be left in peace to choose our own future and to develop our country for our children and generations to come.

"It is only right that he should hear this directly from us, as well as from Mr Hague."

In its statement, the Falklands assembly cited Britain's opposition to "any negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until the Falkland Islanders so wish".

"The Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly believes that the result of the forthcoming referendum will demonstrate definitively that we do not. Should the issue of sovereignty be raised at the meeting, it will not be discussed," it said.

"Members of the Legislative Assembly made it clear in their letter of 2012 to President Fernandez de Kirchner ... that the Falkland Islands Government is willing to meet with the Government of Argentina in order to make our views clear, and to discuss matters of mutual interest including fisheries and communication."

Following Mr Timerman's withdrawal from the talks, the British government expressed renewed concern about Argentina's attitute to the islands.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have always said that we are open to discuss a wide range of issues that affect our two countries, including our respective interests as members of theUnited Nations Security Council.

"However, it is clear from Mr Timerman's plans in the UK that the Falkland Islands are already on his agenda.

"We remain concerned about the Argentine government's behaviour towards the Falkland islanders, so it is right and proper that they are involved in the part of the meeting that concerns the islands.

"We have made that clear to the Argentine government in recent exchanges, and the Foreign Secretary's offer of a meeting on these terms still stands."

Mr Cameron's spokesman added: "The prime minister is disappointed by the decision but the offer still stands if the Argentinians change their minds."