|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Permanent Representative of United Kingdom
Argentina’s allegations that the United Kingdom was deliberately increasing its military presence in the South Atlantic was “manifestly absurd”, Mark Lyall Grant, the latter country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said at a Headquarters press conference today.
He said that, before 1982, his country had maintained only a minimal military presence in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), but after that year’s illegal invasion by Argentina’s military, the United Kingdom had bolstered its defence capability in the region, he said, adding that the issue of sovereignty was the “key question” at hand.
Recalling that he had sent a letter to fellow Permanent Representatives several weeks ago recounting historical events, he said that the United Kingdom had enjoyed sovereignty over the Falklands Islands (Malvinas) since 1765, when Argentina had not even been in existence. In 1833, when Argentina, then just a state, had sent troops to the islands, the British had expelled its garrison three months later, but no civilians had been forced to leave.
In 1850, Argentina and the United Kingdom had ratified a convention stating that there was no territorial dispute in the region, he continued, adding that in the following 90 years, Argentina made only one diplomatic protest about the Falklands (Malvinas). “That three-month period in 1883 plus the six weeks after the illegal invasion by Argentina in 1982 are the only two times when the Argentineans have actually been in the Falkland Islands,” he said.
History showed there was no question regarding sovereignty over the islands, he continued. The key question, in fact, was about the self-determination of the Falklands (Malvinas) residents. Like all overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Falklands (Malvinas) had their own constitution, he said, stressing that his Government had “no intention of imposing” any change on their status against their wishes. Unfortunately, Argentina had changed its Constitution in 1995, obliging its new government to seek sovereignty, he said. “If the Falkland Islanders themselves ask for a change in that status, then we would do everything we could to help them achieve that.”
Noting that the United Kingdom’s military presence had neither changed nor increased since the illegal 1982 invasion, he said that the military actions to which Héctor Marcos Timerman, Argentina’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, had referred, such as missile exercises and the deployment of ships, had in fact been going on for the last 30 years. “The only thing that appears to have changed is the politics in Argentina,” he added.
Responding to questions about the Argentine Foreign Minister’s allegations that nuclear weapons were present in the region, he reiterated that nothing had changed in the United Kingdom’s defence posture around the Falklands (Malvinas) since 1982. He declined to comment on nuclear weapons, pointing out that it was well known that his country’s submarines were present around the world, including international waters, at different times as part of its deterrent posture. “Nobody knows where they are and that’s what makes them a deterrent,” he added.
However, when asked whether such a strong military presence was necessary for any reason other than the 1982 invasion, Mr. Lyall Grant said: “That’s a pretty good reason”, especially in light of the Argentine Constitution having been changed after 1995 to call for sovereignty over the islands, in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter’s provisions on self-determination.
Asked about the possibility that gas and oil reserves were at the crux of the current dispute, he said it was perhaps not a coincidence that Argentina was bringing up the issue of sovereignty at the present juncture. If such reserves existed, the residents of the Falklands (Malvinas) were entitled to exploit their resources for their own benefit. They would not benefit the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom was not looking to participate in an exchange of rhetoric or “starting a war of words”, he said in response to a comment about Prime Minister David Cameron having accused Argentina of “colonialism”. However, if Argentina was seeking to take advantage of the thirtieth anniversary of the 1982 war over the islands, the United Kingdom would defend its position “robustly”, Mr. Lyall Grant stressed.
He recalled that his country had enjoyed past dialogue with Argentina and was “more than willing” to meet again in a bilateral setting to discuss issues of common concern in the Falklands (Malvinas), such as fishing rights, trade, air links and the environment. However, after Argentina had amended its Constitution and declared that it was now its Government’s duty to gain sovereignty over the islands, its Government had broken off the talks. In any dialogue at the present time, it was very clear that there could be no issue of sovereignty, unless the islanders requested it, he stressed.
Asked about past events whereby the United Kingdom had opposed self-determination for its overseas territories, he said every situation was different, citing the cases of Hong Kong and Tierra del Fuego. In the case of the Falklands (Malvinas), however, the issue was one of self-determination, he said, emphasizing that Argentina’s claim of sovereignty was an “entirely manufactured” one with no basis in history or law. “Why on earth should Argentina suddenly decide they have sovereignty over the Falkland Islands just because they happen to be 300 miles away?” he asked. “On that basis, Canada could claim sovereignty over Alaska.”
There was no reason why the United Kingdom would wish to spend more money on defending the islands than was necessary, he said in response to a question. “We are all going through a difficult financial time,” he added, reiterating that his country was only maintaining the increased defence implemented “only 30 years ago” after an armed invasion.
Aware that the Argentine Government was now a democratic system, willing to address the issue peacefully, he reiterated that his country would not consider the question of sovereignty, now present in the country’s Constitution, in any new bilateral talks. Emphasizing that the United Kingdom was not trying to escalate the rhetoric, he said, however, that it did have a duty to provide sufficient defence of the Falklands (Malvinas).
He went on to state that it was necessary for his country to respond to Argentina’s claim of increased British military actions, which was based on questionable information and constituted an escalation, in and of itself. “I would not be sitting here today, if Mr. Timerman had not come to the United Nations to try and “internationalize” the issue and claim that somehow we are militarizing the region,” he added.
* *** *For information media • not an official record