LONDON Britain told Argentina on Friday it was unwilling to discuss the disputed status of the Falkland Islands unless talks included the local pro-British authorities there too, deepening a diplomatic spat over the South Atlantic archipelago.
Britain set out its position after visiting Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman rejected a London meeting with his British counterpart William Hague on Thursday because he objected to the presence of Falkland islanders.
"We're disappointed by the decision," a spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said, referring to Timerman's refusal to meet Hague and the Falklanders.
"The position is that we're not prepared to talk over the heads of the Falkland islanders about matters that directly affect their status as a British overseas territory or indeed their economy or any other issues."
The two countries fought a 10-week war in 1982 over the Falklands, which are part of Britain's self-governing overseas territories, but which Argentina calls Las Malvinas and claims as its own. Britain won, but Argentina began to press its claim again last year after oil exploration began in local waters.
Referring to the Falklanders as "settlers", Timerman said only a bilateral meeting between Argentina and Britain would be acceptable and invited Hague to Buenos Aires to discuss the Falklands face-to-face.
But Cameron's spokeswoman said that Britain's position over the Falklands and over any talks relating to it was based on the principle that the Falklanders should be involved. She said Hague's offer of talks still stood if Timerman changed his mind.
"It's up to the Falklands and the Falkland islanders how they want to run themselves. They choose to be British and it's their right to self-determination and that's enshrined in a U.N. charter," she said.
Separately, a statement from the British Foreign Office said the government remained "concerned about the Argentine government's behaviour" towards the islanders.
President Cristina Fernandez last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war with a diplomatic campaign to assert her country's sovereignty claim.
In 1982 Argentine forces seized the Falklands, but a naval task force and ground troops dispatched by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher recaptured the islands.
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 Andrew Osborn; Editing by Stephen Powell)