Theresa May calls on Argentina for better realtions over Falklands

UK prime minister’s letter to Argentina’s president also calls for more flights to the disputed South Atlantic islands

Theresa May has called on Argentina to discuss running more flights to the Falkland Islands and lifting its restrictions on oil exploration in the area.

It is the prime minister’s first public communication with Argentina over the contested South Atlantic islands, which are governed by Britain, since she moved in to Downing Street last month.

The letter she wrote to Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, was published by local media, but was not reported by Downing Street. Since taking office in December, Macri has sought to strengthen his country’s ties with Britain and end the confrontational approach of the previous administration.

In a letter largely welcomed in Argentina, May wrote: “It is my sincere hope that, where we have differences, 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 air links between the Falkland Islands and third countries in the region and the removal of restrictive hydrocarbons measures.”

Argentina’s foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, said later that London and Buenos Aires had been discussing the issue of flights for three months. “This conversation started during my visit to London in May when I met with my then counterpart Philip Hammond,” Malcorra said. “We began talking about the possibility of reestablishing flights. We’ve been exploring and looking at ways to do this but it hasn’t been resolved yet.”

Malcorra said the possibility of a meeting between May and Macri at the G20 summit in China next month was under discussion. “We think it is a good opportunity for a first conversation,” the minister said.

She added that the issue of hydrocarbons was also under discussion. “The United Kingdom has expressed interest in looking at the hydrocarbons law, we have our legal departments working on it, so I’d say that work is in progress.”

The Chilean company Latam currently operates a flight from Santiago to the Falklands every Saturday via Punta Arenas in southern Chile. Once a month, the same flight also stops in Rio Gallegos in Argentina.

Under the previous 12 years of leftwing government, Argentina restricted hydrocarbon exploration in the area around the Falklands. The UK has continually asked for the restrictions to be lifted. To do so may be difficult, because Macri is in a coalition and might not get the support of parliament.

Macri met David Cameron at Davos earlier this year, and the two men agreed not to allow the Falklands dispute to damage wider relations between London and Buenos Aires.

May’s letter appears in part to have been a response to lobbying by the Argentinian government to win UK support for its candidate to replace Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general.

Argentina is promoting Malcorra for the post. Britain is not expected to reveal how it voted, but it us likely to support Malcorra. Some, however, say it would be difficult to give her such a sensitive diplomatic role, given that the Falklands dispute means her neutrality would be questioned.

May is likely to meet Macri at the G20 summit in China in September, when they are likely to discuss their mutual determination to fight international corruption. During a visit to Brussels in July, Macri said that “our claim will never change”, but hoped for dialogue with Britain.

The Guardian | Patrick Wintour &  Uki Goñi

UK prime minister’s letter to Argentina’s president also calls for more flights to the disputed South Atlantic islands

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