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Clinton offers U.S. help on Falklands dispute

Source: Reuters - Tue 2th Mar 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday the United States stood ready to help Argentina and Britain resolve new tensions over the disputed Falkland Islands, which sparked a war between the two countries in 1982.

"It is our position that this is a matter to be resolved between the United Kingdom and Argentina. If we can be of any help in facilitating such an effort, we stand ready to do so," Clinton said in Montevideo, where she attended the inauguration of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, before travelling to Buenos Aires.

Argentina has objected to a British company's oil exploration off the Falklands, known in Spanish as Las Malvinas, but Britain has rejected the complaint.

Clinton's offer of help came on the first full day of a Latin America tour that will take her to quake-hit Chile and regional heavyweight Brazil along with Costa Rica and Guatemala.

Clinton, speaking to reporters later on her plane bound for Argentina, said she did not see the United States in a mediating role, but rather as simply encouraging dialogue.

"We're not interested in and have no real role in determining what they decide between the two of them. But we want them talking and we want them trying to resolve the outstanding issues between them," she said.

"We recognise that there are contentious matters that have to be resolved and we hope that they will do so."

At a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said she would welcome mediation from the United States as a country friendly to both states. She said all that her country was asking was for talks.

"I don't think that's too much," Fernandez said. 

Clinton repeated that the United States just wanted to get the two countries talking: "We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. We cannot make either one do so."

DRILLING OPPOSED

Argentina, which has claimed the South Atlantic islands since Britain established its rule in the 19th century, invaded them in 1982. After a two-month war, it was forced to withdraw, but still claims the archipelago and says oil exploration by Britain's Desire Petroleum is a breach of sovereignty.

Argentina formally objected to the drilling and said it would require all ships from the Falklands to obtain permits to dock in Argentina.

The "Rio Group" of Latin American leaders, meeting last month in Mexico, issued a statement supporting Argentina's demands to halt drilling around the Falklands, and Fernandez has said Latin American nations back Argentina in the dispute.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the matter should be revisited by the United Nations.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last week he did not expect any direct contact between Brown and Fernandez on the issue and that Britain had given no thought to any military response.

The Falklands are not an onshore oil producer and have no proven onshore reserves, but oil companies are betting that offshore fields hold billions of recoverable barrels of oil.

Desire Petroleum said it broke ground at a well on its offshore "Liz" prospect, which could contain up to 400 million barrels, although the exploration may recover nothing. 

The United States attempted to be neutral in the 1982 military clash, with then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig embarking on shuttle diplomacy that sought a negotiated settlement.

Argentina's ill-fated Falklands campaign is widely seen as a mistake by the discredited military dictatorship ruling at the time. But Argentina's government has said it will continue to seek sovereignty over the islands.

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