UK Ambassador responds to "manifestly absurd" Argentine claims
“Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. My Name is Mark Lyall Grant, I’m the permanent Representative of the United Kingdom at the United Nations. I thought I’d just say a few words in response to Mr Timerman’s press conference a little while ago. Some of you will have seen the letter that I wrote to all my Permanent Representative colleagues a couple of weeks ago on this issue in response to certain claims from the Argentinean government. But I want to just highlight a few of the basic facts which you didn’t hear at the earlier press conference.
The first is that the United Kingdom have been in the Falkland’s since 1765 before Argentina existed and has had sovereignty over the Falkland Islanders and Falkland Islands since then. We have never in all the history since then, implanted or expelled any civilian population from the Falkland Islands. The Argentine military expedition was sent for 3 months in 1833. At that time Argentina as a state did not even include Tierra del Fuego on the continent of Latin America. That only became part of Argentina 50 years later. That military garrison was expelled by the British, but no civilians who were already there were expelled at the time. We made it clear that the civilian population was happy to remain. Now, that 3 months period in 1833, plus the 6 weeks after the illegal invasion by Argentina in 1982, are the only 2 times that the Argentinians have actually been in the Falklands. In 1850, the United Kingdom and Argentina ratified a convention for the settlement of existing differences thereby acknowledging that there was no territorial dispute between the two countries. In the next 90 years after 1850, Argentina made only one diplomatic protest about the Falkland Islands. There have only been regular protests about the Falkland Islanders since 1939. This history goes to show that there is no question over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
The key question is about the self determination of the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands and that is a principle that is enshrined in Article I of the UN Charter. Like other overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Falkland Islands has its own constitution and the UK has no intention of imposing any change in the sovereignty status against the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands.
It is unfortunate that Argentina changed its constitution in the 1990s to make it incumbent upon the Argentinian government to obtain sovereignty over the Falklands. If the Falkland Islanders themselves ask for a change in the status, then we would do everything we could to help them achieve that.
And lastly, the charge from Mr. Timerman about militarization of the region by the United Kingdom is manifestly absurd. Before 1982, there was a minimal defence presence on the Falkland Islands. It is only because Argentina illegally invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, that since then we have had to increase our defence posture. Nothing has changed in that defence posture in recent months or recent years. All the issues that he referred to, the 6 monthly missile tests, the deployment of ships, has been going on for the last 30 years. The only thing that appears to have changed is the politics in Argentina. The idea that the accusation that the British Prime Minister has talked about militarization of the situation is simply wrong.
Okay, I’m happy to take questions.”
Q. “The Foreign Minister of Argentina said Britain is now introducing nuclear weapons into the region. Is this true? If so, why? And what about the statement from the UK about Argentina acting like a colonial power. Do you think that this kind of rhetoric is helpful in the current situation ? And are you willing to accept Ban ki-moon's good offices to be a mediating force in this dispute?”
A. “On the nuclear issue, as I said, nothing has changed in the British defence posture around the Falkland Islands. Clearly that defence posture, as I said, increased significantly after Argentina illegally invaded after 1982, ignored the Security Council resolutions for them to withdraw, and they had to be militarily defeated to persuade them to leave the Islands. Obviously, since then, for the safety and security and well-being of the population of the Falkland Islands we have had to increase our defence posture. We do not comment on the disposition of nuclear weapons, submarines, etc., but it is well known that, of course, as part of our overall deterrence posture there are submarines on patrol all around the world at any time. So it's not a question of anything new in what he is suggesting.
On the question of the rhetoric, we are not looking to increase the rhetoric. We have not started a war of words, but clearly if there is an attempt to take advantage of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War by Argentina, then we will obviously defend our position and defend it robustly. We are responsible for the defence and the security for the people of the Falkland Islands, and they can be reassured that we will carry out that defence in a robust way if necessary but we have no intention of ratcheting up the rhetoric on this issue.
I haven't spoken to the UN Secretary-General since his meeting with Mr Timerman so I can't comment on that but the statement I saw that he issued was exactly the same statement that he’s issued on previous occasions when the issue has been raised with him by the Argentineans.”
Q. “One of the reasons why this... happened the way.. how he explained it... is that the posture that has been adopted by the British navy, especially the introduction of nuclear submarine there and the alignment of all kinds of radar equipment and so on, and basically would the United [Kingdom] reduce the tension by taking the submarine out and so forth, and then sit down and talk with the Argentinean if that is a possibility?”
A.”What he failed to answer is why is there any British defence posture of this sort in the region? We are not threatening any other country, let alone Argentina with whom we have good relations and want to have good relations. It is a purely defensive military posture and nothing has changed in that posture for the last 30 years. The big change in the defence posture was after 1982 when the islands which were not sufficiently protected to prevent an Argentinean illegal military invasion, so obviously after that we have a responsibility to the Falkland Islands, as we do to our other overseas territories to ensure their defence. Nothing has changed in that. The deployment of a ship that he mentioned, that is a routine deployment replacing a ship that was already there. Nuclear submarines, I don’t know how he knows of where the nuclear submarines are. I certainly don’t. That’s the whole point of the defence deterrence is that the submarines go around the world in International waters and no one knows where they are. That is what makes them a deterrent.”
Q. “One thing that has changed and that some people say might be at the crux of this whole new layer, is the explorations in oil and gas in the region? Can you address that issue? Is that the problem from Britain? Is that a problem for Argentina?”
A. “Well, it may be a problem for Argentina. It may not be coincidence that this new bout of rhetoric has come about after there was some suggestions that there may be oil and gas reserves in the Falkland Islands’ waters, but as far as we're concerned, the Falkland Islanders have every right to exploit their economic resources in their own waters and if they do exploit those resources it will be for the benefit of the population of the Falkland Islanders, not for the benefit of the United Kingdom.”
Q. “Is there any problem in initiating a dialogue with you and anyone else that... (indecipherable)”
A. “Well, we have had a dialogue in the past with Argentina. What has been disappointing is that they broke off that dialogue in 1995. We think it would be very useful to have a proper dialogue with Argentina on a range of issues concerned, to do with the Falkland Islands, including trade, including fish, including air links, including the environment. All these issues we did have a forum for discussion, a bilateral forum. Unfortunately, when they changed the constitution in a hostile way to say that it was now a duty of the government to obtain sovereignty of the Falklands, they also pulled out of that bilateral forum for dialogue, so it is they who have refused to discuss with us on a bilateral basis.”
Q. “What reason do you have to believe that the Falkland Islands are at risk... despite the invasion of 1982?”
A. “Well that’s a pretty good reason, frankly, that is a very good reason and unfortunately the fact that the constitution was changed after that, you know they’ve actually put in their constitution, that it is a duty, as part of the constitution, to obtain sovereignty over a territory of which they have never had sovereignty, on which there is a population that’s been there for 9 generations in flagrant violation of the UN Charter and the rights of self determination of those people. Now that is disappointingly a hostile posture that Argentina has taken towards the Falklands and so, of course, we have to ensure that there is adequate defence, but not more than adequate defence, in order to deal with it. One of the slides he showed you was supposed to show some sort of strategic network of defence around the South Atlantic. All that is complete rubbish. On the Falklands, yes, on the Ascension Islands which is staging post to get to the Falklands, yes. The other places, no.”
Q. “Mr Timerman mentioned Hong Kong and also Diego Garcia as 2 examples of other places where the UK... How do you distinguish that... It seems like in Diego Garcia, with the Chagosians tried to get a right to return and the UK opposed it. So, in that light, how can we take your statement that UK always respects the desires of people in territories like this, or can you distinguish these territories?”
A. “You have to distinguish these territories. Every situation is different. In Hong Kong for instance there was a treaty with China. It was on a lease hold, etc. So the whole thing is different and I don't want to draw comparisons between this. The facts in the Falkland Islands are very clear. It is a question, in our view, of self determination, because there is no issue of sovereignty. The claim of sovereignty is an entirely manufactured claim that has no basis in law and no basis in history, and therefore it’s a manufactured claim. Why on earth should Argentina suddenly decide that it has sovereignty over the Falkland Islands just because they happen to be 300 miles away? On that basis Canada could claim sovereignty over Alaska. It just doesn't make any sense. There is no historic, there is no judicial basis for the claim of sovereignty.”
Q. “You mentioned the 1982 war... (Indecipherable)... You already know the capability of Argentina is nothing compared to what it was then. So why not try to engage with the new government... to talk about many things... possibility of an umbrella... (indecipherable)... Why it is not possible some kind of dialogue.”
A. “To answer the defence question, why on Earth would we want to spend more money on defence of the Falkland Islands then is necessary? We’re all going through a difficult economic and financial times. Our defence budgets are under pressure. We are only maintaining what we think is necessary to ensure that there is not a repeat of 1982. And it’s all very well to say “the only” reason. That was only 30 years ago and was an armed military invasion in which over 900 people killed in that war was only 30 years ago, so I think Argentina has a certain responsibility to show that he has completely changed. Yes, it is a democratic government. Yes, it has said it wants to address the issue peacefully, but they have changed the constitution which puts on them a duty to obtain sovereignty. Now in terms of a dialogue, as I said, of course we're ready to have a dialogue with Argentina. We had a dialogue with Argentina and they broke it off, but we are not going to discuss the issue of sovereignty unless the people of the Falkland Islands say they wish us to do so. It is not for the United Kindom and Argentina to discuss sovereignty over the heads of the existing population, some of whom have been there, as I say, for 200 years.”
Q: “You have just said that it is a fact that you are going to use robust power to defend the rights of the Malvinas people to be as they are and at the same time Mr Timerman has said that they are not going to allow you to use that kind of language, the nuclearisation of the region of the Malvinas. Can you comment on these statements and also the presence of some countries, that you mentioned...(indecipherable)... “
A: “Well, obviously I can’t respond on who comes to the press conference, but I’m sorry, he is using emotional terms like nuclear. We have never talked about any particular defence equipment and certainly we never comment in public about any nuclear weapons. That’s not what we do. We are not trying to escalate any of the rhetoric, but we have a duty to have sufficient defence of the Falkland Islands and we will provide that and we have made very clear that we will do that and the more that the rhetoric is ramped on the Argentinean side, the fact that they’re coming to the United Nations, claiming militarization of the region, based on completely specious facts in an unjustified way is, of course, an escalation and we have to respond to that. I would not be sitting here today if Mr Timerman had not come to the United Nations to try and internationalise the issue and claim that somehow we were militarizing the region.”
Q. “Can you please sign and ratify the... (indecipherable) .... treaty.... we should have the region as a nuclear free area and also around those countries and so the presence of a nuclear submarine would be a violation of that treaty. That is why...(indecipherable)”
A: “Well, I’m not an expert on this treaty, but as I understand it, all the nuclear weapon powers have ratified the treaty and all of them comply with it. There’s no question of any infringement of Argentinean waters or anything. If there are any deployments of ships, submarines, it’s in International waters.”
Q: “So sovereignty is not negotiable for the UK. That’s what Timerman seems like he wants to sit down and talk to you about. Is that what you understand Ban Ki-moon has asked for as well, to sit down and talk about this issues other than sovereignty. And second question about the history, when did the Falklands become a self governing territory? Was it always the case from the very beginning.“
A: “I’m not sure I can answer your second question, but I’m sure you can find out when it became a self governing territory or Daniel can follow up with you. On the first, as is said, we have always been open to dialogue with Argentina on the Falklands. We had quite a intense dialogue for a number of years. And unfortunately Argentina pulled out of those talks in the 1990s, but we have made clear that we are not prepared to go into talks with the precondition that has been set in the Argentinean constitution and discuss sovereignty over the heads of the people of the Falkland Islands.”
Q: “It’s never about sovereignty?”
A. “And we have no problem with starting that dialogue. I don’t think we would need any third-party mediation to do that, we can discuss that anytime.”
Q: “What has Ban Ki-moon called for?”
A: “I haven’t spoken to him since he spoken to him since he spoke to Mr Timerman. He can explain himself. I’m just reading his press release as he issued. He was just saying, as he always does, that his good offices are available if both sides would like to do it, but we don't see any need for that.”
Q: “Do you expect from your allies, the European Union, a certain position on this issue. Do you expect that they will support a 100% Britain in this? What do you expect from the countries that Britain is part of the European Union or even NATO in this issue.”
A: “Well, I think on the sovereignty issue, certainly. The UK is party of the European Union and part of the accession when we joined the European Union, it was clear that the Falkland Islands was an overseas territory of the UK so all our European allies of course agree with us on the sovereignty issue. Last question.”
Q: “All weaponry goes obsolete over time, that war was over 30 years ago. Would you be comfortable saying that the British are simply keeping their weaponry current in this situation, after all you can’t have a 50 year old ship, or a 60 year old ship and ask it to do a modern job?”
A: “Well I think Mr Timerman was showing a picture of the latest Destroyer that was going down and it’s true that that is a new generation Destroyer, but as you say that is part of the normal updating of the British fleet. The fact that it is a newer ship talking over from an older ship is not an escalation of the military posture. It’s just a fact that is reflecting in the upgrading of our overall defence equipment.
Thank you very much.”