Falkland Islands sovereignty talks out of the question, says Gordon Brown

• Argentina intensifies efforts to claim Falklands
• Future lies in hands of 'British' islanders

Gordon Brown will today deliver a blunt message to Argentina that Britain will never discuss the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands as he lavishes praise on the "proud and strong" 3,000 British inhabitants of the disputed territory, who mark the 27th anniversary of the Argentinian invasion on Thursday.

"There is nothing to discuss from our side," the prime minister said yesterday, as he flew into Santiago ahead of today's meeting with Cristina Kirchner, who won power in Argentina after promising to intensify efforts to reclaim "Las Malvinas".

Brown and Kirchner will meet for the first time at the Progressive Governance summit on Chile's Pacific coast. The two leaders, both from the centre-left, are both due to attend next week's G20 summit in London, will use today's meeting to discuss a common approach to the global financial crisis.

Downing Street has no intention of raising the Falkland Islands, but Brown accepts that Kirchner has, for domestic reasons, to restate Argentinian sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. However, the prime minister yesterday made clear that the constitutional future of the islands lay in the hands of the islanders, who are staunchly British. "The essential principle has always been that the islanders should determine the issue of sovereignty for themselves. Let us be clear, our first priority will always be the needs and the wishes of the islanders."

Britain and the Argentinian government are involved in a delicate diplomatic dance. Argentina would like to restore what it regards as its rightful sovereignty over the islands. Britain rejects this. In the meantime, Buenos Aires would like to gain unfettered access for the relatives of Argentinian soldiers who died in the 1982 war to visit their graves on the islands.

The Falklands' islanders, for their part, want to be able to fly directly to Argentina. At the moment they have to embark on a lengthier journey to Chile.

Slow progress is being made because the Argentinians will not allow a regular "air bridge" with the Falklands unless the island's sovereignty is addressed. This is holding up access for Argentinians to the war graves.

Brown also met Michelle Bachelet, the socialist president, who was kidnapped and tortured by forces loyal to the late dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in 1975. Brown used his meeting with a torture victim to make clear - as Britain faces accusations of colluding in the torture of Binyam Mohammed - that he is adamantly opposed to the practice.

He also suffered a mildly embarrassing moment when Bachelet inadvertently echoed one of the central criticisms aimed at Labour by the Tories: that they failed to prepare Britain's public finances during the good years.

When asked about Chile's strong public finances, she said: "I would say that because of our decisions during the good times - we decided to save some money for the bad times - I would say that policy today is producing results. We developed our fiscal stimulus. We could make one of 2.8% of GDP. That is pretty hard for a country like ours."


Nicholas Watt in Santiago

The GuardianTramp

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