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Will the Falkland Islands come between the UK and US?

US comments on Falkland Islands dispute leads Britain to question the "special relationship."

America is no more anxious to take Britain’s side today than it was in 1982. At that time, however, Britain was prepared to prosecute a war, and Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary, convinced the president that it was unthinkable to allow the Americans’ closest ally to go to war unsupported.

This time the war is so far one of words, and the Obama administration, to the dismay of British leaders, has demonstrated that its sympathies may lie with Argentina.

British diplomats were furious when a senior U.S. spokesman, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley, answered a Feb. 25 press question about the Falklands with the phrase: “Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it.”

Widely reported in Britain this week, the remarks by Crowley increased the resentment already felt over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s offer last week in Buenos Aires to help broker the talks on island sovereignty demanded by the Argentines.

Britain sees no need for talks. Calling the Clinton offer a “diplomatic coup” for Argentina, the venerable London Times restated the British position that there should be “no negotiations unless the islands’ 3,000 inhabitants asked for them.”

There are warring accounts of who owned what and when, but the U.K. rests its claim on 177 years of unbroken occupation and the desire of islanders to remain British.

According to Lucy Robinson, an historian at the University of Sussex and an expert on the Falklands war, the sentiments of the British public are more connected to the men who fought to retake the islands than to issues of legal ownership.

"Since the 25th anniversary of the war in 2007,” Robinson said, “there’s been a much stronger focus on Falklands veterans, and the focus is not on political issues so much as on soldiers."

Some of the men who re-took the islands suffered horrendous injuries, and there were charges at the time that they had not been well-enough equipped. The same doubts are now expressed about troops fighting in Afghanistan, and the steady return from the battlefield of flag-draped coffins brings silent crowds of Britons into the streets.

"People are really aware of what’s happening [with British forces] in Afghanistan," said Robinson, "so there’s an increased awareness of the high price that soldiers pay. The Falklands has a big place in those thoughts."