BUENOS AIRES Argentina on Thursday rejected an invitation from Britain to a meeting that would include representatives of the government of the Falkland Islands, further hardening the diplomatic stalemate over the South Atlantic archipelago.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said in an open letter to his British counterpart William Hague that only a bi-lateral meeting between Argentina and Britain would be acceptable.
The two countries fought a 10-week war in 1982 over the Falklands, which are part of Britain's self-governing overseas territories. Britain won but Argentina started pressing its sovereignty claim anew last year after oil exploration began in waters near the remote, wind-swept islands.
Timerman's letter came in response to an invitation to visit the foreign office during a visit to London this week. Representatives of the Falklands were also invited.
"I lament your letter of yesterday stating you cannot meet without the supervision of the Malvinas settlers," Timerman's letter said, using the Argentine term for the Falkland Islands.
"It's a shame that you reject a bilateral meeting," the letter continues. "You need not keep trying to put together meetings during my visit to London. Leave that job to our own efficient embassy."
"I invite you to visit Argentina," Timerman went on, "to hold a bilateral meeting and to show you that our country is a true democracy, where my fellow foreign ministers can meet freely with whom they want, without me pushing them into meetings that do not interest them."
President Cristina Fernandez last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war with an ongoing diplomatic campaign to assert Argentina's sovereignty claim.
London has refused to start talks on sovereignty with Buenos Aires unless the roughly 3,000 islanders, known as "Kelpers", want them. The islanders show no signs of wanting to break with Britain and are expected to affirm as much in a referendum due to be held in March.
The dispute has not deterred British energy companies from exploring on the islands, which are expected to start producing their first oil in 2017.
(Reporting By Hugh Bronstein; Editing by David Brunnstrom)