Only a month after lavishly praising U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama ditched him at a press conference in Colombia.
Obama’s turnabout came April 15 when he was asked about Argentina’s demand for control of the Falkland Islands, which are home to roughly 3,000 British citizens. The islands are located in the South Atlantic some 300 miles from Argentina.
“Our position on this is that we are going to remain neutral… this is not something that we typically intervene in,” Obama replied to the question.
Obama also mislabeled the islands as “The Maldives,” partly because Argentina’s government says the Falkland Islands should be called the “Malvinas” islands.
In fact, the Maldive Islands are in the Indian ocean, not in the South Atlantic. They are some 8,200 miles from the Falklands.
Obama’s neutral stance contrasts with his fulsome praise for Cameron and the U.K. during Cameron’s state visit March 14.
“For decades, our troops have stood together on the battlefield… So, David, thank you, as always, for being such an outstanding ally, partner and friend,” Obama declared.
“As I said this morning, because of our efforts, our alliance is as strong as it has ever been,” he added.
The islands have been populated by British citizens since 1833. In April 1982, an Argentinian invasion force occupied the islands, but was ejected by a British fleet that sailed 7,800 miles from the U.K.
The Falklands are now increasingly valuable because the surrounding seabed is expected to contain oil and natural-gas reserves.
In March, Argentinian foreign minister Hector Timerman slammed the U.K.’s plans for oil exploration. Without approval from Argentina, any drilling would be illegal and would prompt civil and criminal charges, he declared.
“The South Atlantic’s oil and gas are property of the Argentine people,” he claimed.
However, Obama’s familiarity with the three-decade-old dispute is unclear.
Neither Cameron nor Obama acknowledged discussing the Argentinian claim during the March state visit.
Also, Obama said the United States “typically” does not intervene in the territorial dispute.
However, the U.S. provided critical aid to the 1982 British naval campaign that defeated the Argentinian invasion force. The aid, approved by President Ronald Reagan, included spy-satellite data and advanced heat-seeking missiles that were used to shoot down Argentina’s anti-ship bombers.