OAS dragged into Argentina-Falklands row

June 1, 2012 at 12:34 PM
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COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, June 1 (UPI) -- Argentina's persistent claim for sovereignty over British-ruled Falkland Islands has ended up in the Organization of American States, which hopes its conference agenda next week won't be derailed by bickering over the controversy.

OAS member countries' foreign ministers are to gather Sunday in scenic Cochabamba, Bolivia, for two days of a general assembly that was originally called to secure agreements and an action plan on regional food security and linkage with national sovereignty.

Instead, organizers say they fear the talks will be dominated by an Argentine-led diplomatic effort to garner wider Latin American backing for its sovereignty claim over the British territory.

Argentina's campaign has gained momentum with increased international investor interest in the Falklands' undersea hydrocarbon potential. No major discoveries have been announced, yet investors keep coming to Falklands with the hope of taking part in an expected energy bonanza.

Argentina invaded the islands in 1982 but was repulsed by Britain in a 74-day conflict that caused in 907 deaths.

Argentina is pursuing an international campaign to force Britain into talks over Falklands sovereignty, which Argentina disputes and claims as its territory.

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza indicated he hoped any talks on the Falklands would result in consensus and not lead to disagreements, as at the April summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.

At the Cartagena talks disagreements arose over the summit leaders' position that the Argentine claims on the Falklands should be discussed first at a ministerial level at the OAS general assembly. Diplomats said the leaders wanted to test the waters before committing themselves.

Argentina has been winning public pronouncements in its favor at previous Latin American conferences and OAS general assemblies but Buenos Aires hasn't been equally successful in securing strategic or material support for its campaign.

Insulza said he remains confident the Falklands issue won't predominate deliberations at the general assembly.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is keen not to be taking sides between all of Latin America and close ally Britain. U.S. officials said they would reiterate at the meeting the Falklands were a bilateral issue that needed to be tackled by Argentina and Britain.

"Our policy is unchanged," State Department spokesman Mike Hammer told reporters in an exchange on Twitter.

"We believe that this is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between Argentina and the United Kingdom. That's what we are encouraging both sides to do."

Hammer said he expected the Cochabamba meeting to be "good" with a "good atmosphere."

"What matters to the U.S. is to work jointly with the hemisphere countries and so advance towards a better future, fight poverty, attack issues such as climate change and see how we can work together as we did at the recent Summit of the Americas in Colombia and ensuring that human rights are respected and strengthening democracy," Hammer said.

The U.S. delegation is likely to be led by Roberta Jackson, assistant secretary of state for Latin America.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who met Obama in the White House in March, told reporters the United States was content with the status quo in the Falkland Islands and "would stop prodding Britain and Argentina" to talk to each other.

"President Obama made clear that the U.S. was content with the status quo, under which the Falklands remain a British overseas territory," Cameron said.

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