Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timerman, is in town. He spoke to all the All Party Parliamentary Group on Argentina earlier this afternoon. There are close economic and social links between Britain and Argentina, extending far back into the nineteenth century; but the meeting was dominated by what was euphemistically termed ‘the islands’.
Timerman began diplomatically. ‘You can speak to this Argentina,’ he assured the assembled honourable members and lords. ‘This Argentina is ready to talk.’ This sounded encouraging, a welcome contrast to President Kirchner’s bellicosity. Timerman spoke about the need for ‘frank and open’ discussions that did not obsess about ‘the past’. The future is what counts.
Deputy Speaker of the Commons Lindsay Hoye said that ‘the islands’ were not ‘Britain’s to give or Argentina’s to take’. This implied that self-determination is the only factor in play, reflecting the British government position. Hoye suggested that the Argentine government does not want to hear the democratic rights of the islanders. Timerman said that he did, but gave no indication of how the Argentine government would listen to or accommodate the wishes of the islanders. Later he said:
‘There is a difference between interests and wishes. The people living in the Malvinas will have their interests taken into consideration, but not their wishes. That is what the United Nations has said, many times.’
The general assembly of the UN is central to Argentina’s strategy. Timerman declared his confidence that the many countries there arraigned against Britain will see the Falklands become Argentine territory within 20 years. Argentina presents the UN as the final word on international law. He said:
‘It is an issue that has to be resolved by Argentina and the United Kingdom. By introducing a third party (the Falklanders), the United Kingdom is changing more than 40 resolutions by the United Nations, which call the two countries to negotiate.’
Lord Davies, the turncoat Tory who served as a defence minister in the Brown government, asked if the Argentines might pursue their territorial claim in the international court at the Hague. Timerman replied that his government will not be doing so because the British government is not serious about entering arbitration. His evidence for this is that the British government rejected an arbitration appeal in 1884 (in fact, he meant 1888). This is not the strongest argument, particularly from someone who professed determination not to talk about the past.
How could there be negotiation between the two parties when Argentina does not recognise the Falklanders’ right to self-determination? This question elicited an ingenious response from Timerman:
‘Self-determination does not apply to Las Malvinas’.
His reasoning is based on an interpretation of international law which defines the Falklands Islands as a colonised territory; and, therefore, it cannot be self-determined. He continued: ‘According to the UN, the islanders are not a native population’. This statement was delivered a few minutes after some delightful exchanges about the forthcoming 150th anniversary of the migration of tens of thousands of Welshmen to Patagonia; and, of course, it was uttered by a Spanish speaker from South America (although it should be noted that he prefers ‘Latin America’.)
The word ‘irony’ could not contain the multitude of speciousness issuing from Senor Timerman’s mouth. He was, however, barely warmed up. Timerman began to speak at length about Britain’s colonial history and the need to move on. There was no mention of Argentina’s origins and the systematic eradication of its indigenous peoples (so clearly documented by Matthew Parris a few weeks ago). Timerman then drew comparison between the Falkland islanders and settlers in the West Bank by enlightening his audience of the British government’s hypocrisy of condemning Israeli settlements while continuing to support the islanders. ‘It does not make any sense,’ he said excitedly, echoing my very thoughts.
This was a meeting of parliamentarians and officials from both countries. I could only conclude that there can be no resolution of the Falklands dispute while Argentina persists with an approach that is dishonest, and not merely intellectually. This is a shame because the meeting touched on some areas where there is much agreement between Britain and Argentina: on bilateral trade, fostering multilateral links in South America, the workings of the G20, and the crucial matter of tackling tax evasion and tightening loopholes in international law that enable tax avoidance. Yet meaningful discussion was lost under the sound of Timerman’s fury.