Portillo: 21-years on positions are clear.
Michael Portillo MP said Monday night that he thinks both the United Kingdom and Argentine positions are clear regarding the Falkland Islands and have not changed that he does not foresee that they will change and that the best thing is to leave them (sovereignty negotiations) to one side and look for ways to expand upon links between the two countries.
He thus categorically denied reports in an Argentine newspaper that bilateral talks should be re-started over the Falkland Islands on Monday as "pure invention of the newspaper."
"There is no reason to talk about it (sovereignty). It's very clear, 21-years have gone by and it's very clear Argentina is not going to change its mind and it's clear the British position will be maintained in the long-term and that the British position is also that it is the Islanders who decide what will become of them. (?) Why go on about something which is clear we are not going to agree about. There are lots of evident links between Great Britain and Argentina and we can expand upon them. (?) We have also talked about the links between Argentina and the Islands and I believe there is the willingness on both sides to talk."
During the ABC conference held at the Argentine Council for Foreign Affairs (CARI) in downtown Buenos Aires last weekend the relationship between Argentina and the United Kingdom was discussed with emphasis on bilateral issues regarding the Falkland Islands. Topics discussed included tourism, conservation of fishing stocks, closer coordination of fishing protection measures and building on cooperation.
During a press conference held at CARI Martin O'Neill MP, president of the eighth ABC meeting said the British delegation pointed out to the Argentines that the agreement between Britain and Spain, which was subsequently set aside because there was an obvious lack of consent on the part of the Gibraltarians, is a precedent, and that it's clear that there will not be sovereignty negotiations concerning the Falkland Islands without the consent of the majority of the Islanders.
O'Neill also said possibility of twinning places in Argentina with the UK and the Islands was discussed, claiming it's easy to twin Buenos Aires with Birmingham and Cordoba with Coventry but there are fewer communications between smaller centres and more isolated rural communities where some of their difficulties might be similar between places in Patagonia and Scotland and places in Patagonia and the Islands "with this in mind we hope communities of interest can be established". he said.
O'Neill praised the contribution of Islanders Terry Betts and particularly Tony Blake at the meeting, who he said was made following fairly extensive consultation with the Islands and the people of the Islands. Blake apparently brought up several areas of interest in which improvements could take place "although he was unclear about specific details." They included a second air-link to the Islands. O'Neill said Blake felt problems with fishing stocks and conservation would be better addressed by Argentines and Islanders together and that he felt closer cooperation between the two sides could prevent abuses of joint fishing stocks
O'Neill said Blake was also very constructive regarding hydrocarbons and that he indicated that if oil or gas is discovered in commercially viable quantities in the future that he and other Islanders think it would be better for the Islands environment for the oil terminals to be in Argentina and the mineral resources to be pumped to the mainland.
However, speaking to MercoPress following a public meeting at CARI on Monday evening Portillo considered that "up until now oil or gas have not been found in quantities around the Islands and what would be best for Argentina and the Islands is a clear understanding of how to explore these resources and if that is in place we can look for mineral resources. But, to talk about a pipeline is a long way ahead in the future."
O'Neil was adamant to point out that these issues were all just topics of discussion and that there will have to be "partnership between the two groups and if not, they will not go any further than discussions" pointing out again the precedent of Britain and Spain. He added "my understanding is that the areas Blake was talking about are areas of competence of the Islands council and they would have to be involved in discussions and it has to be said that there isn't a mechanism for discussions to take place. " He considered what happened in Northern Ireland whereby independent bodies were set up to deal with matters of mutual interest "without the integrity of the North of Ireland being brought into question" is an example of what could happen.
According to O'Neill with the advance of technology it is now easy to keep in touch all over the world and it might be able to organize "video-conferences" between ABC participants and the Islanders to "follow up on what are at the moment proposals, just in fine pencil and not in black ink".
"Our exchanges were very cautious, convivial and friendly but we recognise that there are opportunities through email and video to communicate on a better and more regular basis than in the past".
Questioned about whether it is possible for there to be exchanges between Argentina and the Islands without sovereignty being involved Portillo said "of course it's possible. In many parts of the world there are neighbouring peoples who have a problem between themselves and it is possible to expand the links. It is clear ? and Argentina and the Islanders must agree, they have to want it - that during these 21-years little has been done. There is very little trade between the Islands and Argentina and there are only just flights, there is little tourism, so it's clear more should be done, but I outline that the Islanders and the Argentines must agree to it. (?) The normal thing would be that they look for ways to live together and to have normal relations."
Also speaking to MercoPress, conference organiser Alistair Forsyth pointed out that the organisers did invite the Islands councillors to attend the meeting but that they declined the invitation. Shortly afterwards Blake and Betts contacted them to see if they could take part in the reunion, saying they did so "with the councils blessing." Forsyth says he hopes the next ABC meeting will take place in over a year but under two and possible venues talked about are Liverpool, the Isle of Wight, Edinburgh and Port Stanley. He added he hoped it would be Stanley, although the press release said it would be in Britain.
The public meeting at CARI on Monday evening with Portillo and O'Neill as guest speakers on "perspectives from the United Kingdom" addressed British foreign policy. It was extremely well attended by former Argentine ambassadors, diplomats and members of the foreign ministry, other key Argentine figures, the two Islanders who participated in the ABC as well as the British ambassador to Argentina.
Michael Portillo Profile
Michael Portillo is one of the Conservative Party's most charismatic and experienced Members of Parliament, having served as a Minister in the governments of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who visited the Falkland Islands during his term as Secretary of State for Defence between 1995 and 1997, when he gave firm assurances about safeguarding Falkland Islands sovereignty and defence.
In a speech in Stanley in 1997, Mr Portillo said the British Government was committed to defending the Falkland Islands and maintaining their security indefinitely. He added: "There is no caveat, exception or time limit to that commitment".
If he had not lost his seat in the 1997 general election which brought Tony Blair to power, many people believe he would have been elected leader of the Conservative Party. He returned to Parliament in a by-election in 1999.
In the present party crisis challenging Ian Duncan Smith's leadership, his supporters are controversially accused of working secretly to boost his chances of becoming leader, though he himself has not campaigned openly and is pursuing a lucrative career outside Parliament in the media. He is still only 50 with plenty of time left to reach the top position.
He first became an MP in 1984, and held a number of ministerial posts in the next eleven years, including three in the Cabinet, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Employment Secretary and Defence Secretary.
At the time of the Falklands War, he was an oil industry consultant between 1981 and 1983. Before entering Parliament, he worked in the Conservative Party Research Department and as a special adviser to several ministers.
MercoPress ? Buenos Aires