Argentina, UK spar over nuclear submarine claims

Argentina's foreign minister on Friday claimed the UK had dispatched a nuclear-armed submarine to the South Atlantic near the disputed Falkland Islands, a region covered by a nuclear prohibition treaty. Britain refused to discuss the claims.


AP - Argentina said Friday it has information that Britain sent a nuclear-armed submarine to the South Atlantic near the disputed Falkland Islands in the latest verbal salvo in a dispute over the territory.

Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman told reporters at the United Nations that a submarine called the Vanguard with nuclear weapons was recently sent as part of Britain’s deployment in the Falklands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas. HMS Vanguard is one of four British submarines armed with nuclear missiles.

“Argentina has information that within the framework of the recent British deployment in the Malvinas Islands they sent a nuclear submarine ... to transport nuclear weapons to the South Atlantic,” said Timerman.

He said Argentina asked the United Kingdom through diplomatic channels if it had introduced nuclear weapons to the South Atlantic, but “thus far, the UK refuses to say whether it’s true or not.”

He said the deployment of nuclear arms in the region would violate the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, designed to create a nuclear-free zone in the region.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said later at his own news conference responding to Timerman: “We do not comment on the disposition of nuclear weapons, submarines.”

“I don’t know how he knows about submarines,” he added. “I certainly don’t know. The whole point of nuclear submarines is that they go all around the world and you don’t know where they are. That’s why they’re a deterrent.”

As for the treaty, Lyall Grant said that there would be no violation as long as nuclear submarines stayed out of Argentine waters.

Argentina and Britain fought a war over the islands that killed more than 900 people in 1982. With the approach of the 30th anniversary of the start of that conflict, which began when Argentina invaded on April 2, tensions have risen between the countries over the status of the British overseas territory.

Argentina claims the islands they call Malvinas, as well as the British-held South Georgia and South Sandwich islands, farther off its coast. At stake are not only the islands themselves - where sheep far outnumber people - but rich fishing grounds and potential undersea gas and oil in the surrounding seas.

Timerman said Argentina accepted an offer from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mediate with Britain. Lyall Grant said there’s nothing to negotiate, because the Falklanders have now been there for nine generations and don’t want change.

Britain’s defense and foreign ministries on Friday also refused to discuss Timerman’s claim about nuclear weapons, citing long-standing government policy not to comment on the deployment or movements of the country’s submarines.

Britain’s navy has 11 nuclear-powered submarines, seven armed with conventional weapons, including Tomahawk missiles, and four that carry Trident nuclear missiles, which can deliver warheads more than 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers).

Last week, Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper reported the U.K. had deployed a Trafalgar-class submarine, armed only with conventional weapons, to the South Atlantic.

“We are not looking to increase the rhetoric. We have not started a war of words,” said Lyall Grant. “But clearly if there is an attempt to take an advantage of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, we will obviously defend our position and defend it robustly.”

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez initially dispatched Timerman to formally complain to the U.N. Security Council that Britain has created a serious security risk by sending the destroyer HMS Dauntless, one of its most modern warships, to the region. Britain called it routine.

Timerman also met Friday with Togo’s Ambassador Kodjo Menan, who holds the rotating U.N. Security Council presidency, and Cuban Ambassador Pedro Nunez Mosquera, who heads the U.N. Decolonization Committee.

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