By Andrew Osborn and William James
LONDON (Reuters) - Argentina's ambassador to Britain said on Wednesday she had not meant to offend Prime Minister David Cameron when she called him "dumb" and his handling of the long-running dispute over the Falkland Islands "foolish".
In an effort to draw a line under the latest spat in an ill-tempered feud between the two countries over the South Atlantic archipelago, she said her words had been taken out of context.
"Ambassador Castro referred exclusively to the failure of a communication strategy," the ambassador said in a statement issued by the Argentine embassy. "They (the remarks) were not meant as a personal affront to Mr. Cameron, nor to the Prime Minister's office."
Earlier on Wednesday, Britain's foreign office had told Reuters it was seeking confirmation of the comments by Ambassador Alicia Castro, saying that, if reports of them were accurate, her words had been "undiplomatic".
The contested islands, known as Las Malvinas by Argentines, remain a source of tension between London and Buenos Aires more than 30 years after Argentina unsuccessfully invaded them in an attempt to assert its sovereignty claim.
Castro's comments had also ruffled feathers in Cameron's office. Referring to a referendum in March in which Falkland residents were asked if the islands should remain a British Overseas Territory, a source from Cameron's office had said: "We don't think it's foolish to listen to 99.8 percent of the population, who have made it very clear that they want to stay British."
On Tuesday, Castro had told Argentine lawmakers that Cameron had unwisely publicized comments about the Falklands by former Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, made before he was named pope earlier this year.
"Prime Minister Cameron was dumb, if I may use the word dumb before Congress," Castro said during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pausing to laugh.
"When the pope was named I asked one of our people to look into what Bergoglio had said regarding the Malvinas. Cameron did the same and was foolish enough to disseminate the information," she added.
Cameron said in March that the pope had been wrong to say in 2012 that Britain had "usurped" the islands.
In April, Castro declined an invitation to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who led Britain at the time of the 1982 Falklands war.
Memories of that conflict remain raw and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has mounted a campaign to renegotiate the islands' sovereignty, lobbying Pope Francis on the issue and rejecting the results of the islands' referendum.
(Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Fenton)