The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has praised the Falkland Islanders for their positive approach to Argentina during the year 2000. Speaking directly to the Islands population on the BBC World Service programme ?Calling the Falklands' Mr. Blair said ?I salute your courage in agreeing to develop links with Argentina where co-operation is in our mutual interest'. However he reiterated that despite the signing of a Treaty in July 1999 which now allows Argentine Nationals to visit the Islands following a 17 years ban, and permits a once a month stopover in Rio Gallegos of a Lan Chile flight enroute to the Islands, there is no question of the sovereignty being discussed. Mr Blair said, ?This approach (developing links with Argentina) offers the possibility of a sound working relationship with Argentina without compromising the fundamental principal that sovereignty is not negotiable'.
The British Prime Minister broke with tradition after coming to office by broadcasting a special message at New Year to the Islanders and not at Christmas like his Conservative predecessors. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began the tradition back in 1982, following the Falklands War, and her successor John Major continued the trend.
Mr. Blair praised the Islanders for their positive approach in organizing a Forum in London in July. He said, ?Business, Media, Investors and Conservationists met to talk about constructive partnership and the way ahead for the Falkland Islands. The Forum was a terrific initiative and a great success. It successfully projected the image of a modern Falkland Islands, gearing up for the challenges of guaranteed economic growth while protecting your remarkable environment'.
He recalled that at the Forum the Minister of State at the Foreign Office with responsibility for the Islands, John Battle, had spoke of the continuing partnership for the Falklands, and that he had confirmed the Islanders right to self-determination and the British Government's guarantee of security. ?Let me reiterate here those vital commitments, and I hope that this promise of stability will enable us all to work wholeheartedly towards sustaining a secure future for the Falkland Islands' said the British Prime Minister in his New Year message.
With approximately 22,000 mines buried in the Falklands by Argentine Engineers in 1982 still remaining, Mr. Blair touched on this subject when he said, ?We are making headway on the question of the feasibility of landmine clearance as well as on oil exploration and fish stocks in the South Atlantic. These are important issues and they won't be solved overnight but I welcome steps in, what I am convinced, is the right direction. So it seems to me that the Falkland Islands is looking frankly at the future and at opportunities which lay ahead'.
He concluded his message with words that have been welcomed by the entire Falklands population ? ?Please rest assured that this Government (British) is committed to supporting you in this dynamic process whilst ensuring your security'.