BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's lawyers met with a court-appointed debt mediator on Wednesday, but they attended only as officers of the court rather than representing the country in its years-old legal battle with holdout hedge funds.
The South American country has long criticized not only the hedge funds suing it for unpaid debt but also the judge and the court-appointed mediator, New York lawyer Daniel Pollack, who are handling the case.
"Despite repeated explanations given by Argentina about the lack of legal, fair, equitable and sustainable conditions that would allow for negotiations to start, the Special Master (Pollack) forced a meeting of both parties to take place today," the Argentine economy ministry said in a statement.
The attendance of Argentina's law firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP "responds only to their duties as officers of the court because they are not authorized to act on behalf of Argentina at this opportunity", the statement added.
The meeting had been expected to focus on the subject of how settlement talks should proceed in January after the expiration of a bond clause that the Argentine government has cited as a stumbling block.
Argentina contends the so-called Rights Under First Offer, or RUFO, clause prohibits it from voluntarily paying the holdouts suing for full payment. The clause expires Dec. 31.
Argentina defaulted in July for the second time in 12 years after refusing to honor court orders to pay $1.33 billion plus interest to bondholders - a group of hedge funds - suing for full payment on defaulted bonds.
The hedge funds, led by NML and Aurelius Capital Management, had spurned the country's 2005 and 2010 debt restructurings, which resulted in exchanges for about 92 percent of the country's defaulted debt.
The two restructurings stemmed from a 2002 debt crisis in which millions of middle class Argentines were thrown into poverty.
The case has heaped more uncertainty on Argentina, which is grappling with high inflation, a stagnant economy and sinking central bank reserves at a time when it needs to attract investors to its promising Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas formation in Patagonia.
(Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Jacqueline Wong)