UK / Argentina: Prime Minister raises flights and hydrocarbons: 10 August 2016
In one of her first contacts with President Macri of Argentina, Theresa May has raised the issue of air links between the Falkland Islands and third countries in the region and the lifting of Argentina's restrictive measures affecting the development of a hydrocarbons industry in the Falkland Islands. There is the possibility of a first meeting between the two in the margins of the G20 meeting in China in early September.
On 10 August, the Argentine newspaper, Clarin, published a leaked letter from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to President Macri, dated 2 August, responding to his earlier letter announcing the candidacy of Argentine Foreign Minister, Susana Malcorra, for the post of UN Secretary General. Not surprisingly, Theresa May hung back from revealing the UK's voting intentions: there are other potential female candidates and the field is not yet clear.
But the tone of the message was warm, endorsing the aim of broadening the co-operation between the UK and Argentina, particularly in areas originally identified during Macri's meeting with David Cameron at Davos (trade and investment, in the fight against drugs, crime and corruption, and Argentina moving towards the OECD). On Falklands-related issues, the message was that difficulties should be acknowledged in an atmosphere of mutual respect and with the intention of acting in a way that would benefit all concerned. It was interesting that Theresa May highlighted two areas - progress towards new airlinks between the Falkland Islands and third countries in the region and lifting Argentina's restrictive measures in hydrocarbons.
Susana Malcorra confirmed that the British side had raised these two issues when she met the previous Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, in London in May but there were legal difficulties and the matters remained unresolved. She indicated that the possibility of holding a meeting between Macri and May in the margins of the G20 meeting in China on 4-5 September was being explored.
There have been other high-level contacts recently. Sir Simon McDonald, the relatively new head of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) - who took up post in September 2015 - paid a visit to Buenos Aires in late July, which included a call on the Argentine Deputy Foreign Minister, Carlos Feradori. One issue discussed was the recent visit to the Falkland Islands by a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in late June/early July to examine the practical aspects of forensically identifying the remains of the
Argentine war dead buried in the Argentine cemetery in Darwin, a sensitive issue for both sides.
The issue of air links will be difficult. The Falkland Islands Government (FIG) is keen to expand the LAN Chile links with the Falklands and/or to develop another South American route since the existing LAN Chile flight, which flies every Saturday from Punta Arenas, is often heavily oversubscribed. Argentina has always refused to allow additional LAN flights (and can do so because they have to transit Argentina's air space) - and they have instead argued for a resumption of direct flights from Argentina to the Falklands. Falkland Islanders have no wish, however, to revert to the pre-1982 situation under which Argentina controlled air access - and it was notable that one of the first actions of the Kirchner regime in 2003 was to ban all charter flights to and from the Falklands as well as threatening the LAN Chile route.
Equally, Macri might find it difficult to ensure the passage of legislation through Congress to repeal the punitive laws passed under the Kirchner administration aimed at hindering the development of a hydrocarbons industry in the Falkland Islands, even if he wanted to (and that is by no means certain) since he has no assured Congressional majority.
Argentina may wish to widen the scope of any discussion to cover other issues. They would, for example, love to have the restrictions on UK arms exports to Argentina lifted because of the negative impact this has on their international standing as a democratic state.
The key in all this, of course, is for the UK Government not to compromise on the issue of sovereignty.
The text of the letter from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to President Macri, dated 2 August, is as follows:
"Dear President Macri
Thank you for your recent letter to my predecessor, informing him that Argentina has nominated Ms Susana Malcorra to run for the post of UN Secretary-General.
As I am sure you appreciate, the UK has a long standing policy of not revealing its voting intentions in UN Secretary-General elections. I can assure you, however, that we judge all candidates on their merits and we will carefully consider Ms Malcorra's bid.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my hope that we can continue to work together to move the relationship between the UK and Argentina into a more productive phase, and I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has already had the opportunity to speak to you about this. I welcome our growing cooperation on such areas as trade and investment, fighting drugs, crime and corruption, and Argentina moving closer to the OECD. I
was delighted to hear that the recent visit of the sail training ship "Libertad to Liverpool was such a success - a clear sign of our strengthening ties.
It is my sincere hope that, where we have difficulties, these can be acknowledged in an atmosphere of mutual respect and with the intention to act in a way that benefits all those concerned. This includes making progress towards new airlinks between the Falkland Islands and third countries in the region, and the removal of restrictive hydrocarbons measures.
I look forward to having the opportunity to meet you soon.