Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Thursday that oil is behind Britain's interest in the Malvinas Islands, known to the Britons as the Falklands. "What I sense in Britain's position is a strong smell of oil," Timerman told Radio del Plata. The remarks came after Jan Cheek, a leading political figure on the disputed islands, said last Wednesday that Timerman's assertion that the islands would be Argentina's in 20 years "smelled like desperation." Argentina has criticized Britain's decision to step up its search for oil in island waters, warning that it will denounce the companies that finance the explorations. "The British government uses the British citizens who live on the islands to justify its own intransigence. We want to dialogue, we want to fulfill the United Nations resolutions," said Timerman. Timerman returned Thursday from a 72-hour visit to London, where he met with intellectuals from 18 European countries who support the renewal of dialogue between Britain and Argentina on the disputed islands, located just off Argentina's south coast. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Timerman were supposed to meet in London, but the meeting was canceled as Buenos Aires rejected the participation of parliamentarians from the islands. A referendum will be held on the islands in March, so residents can decide whether to preserve their current political status as a British overseas territory. Earlier this month, Timerman denounced the planned vote as "illegal." Argentina and Britain went to war in 1982 over the islands and the conflict ended with the South American nation's defeat after 74 days. Argentina has urged Britain to negotiate the islands' sovereignty, but Britain says it will only do that if the islanders demand it.