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Britain firm on Falklands as deadline nears

By David WillisStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 9, 1982


Both military and diplomatic strategies have accelerated over the Falkland Islands dispute. The British government stands firm amid fervent hopes here that war with Argentina can be averted.

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On the diplomatic front, United States Secretary of State Alexander Haig's mediation mission to both sides, now under way, is welcomed by London, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher insisting that he came to London as a friend and ally rather than an honest broker.

The military strategy behind Britain's diplomacy tightened a notch with the announcement that Britain will enforce a 200-mile radius interdiction zone around the Falklands beginning Monday. British Defense Secretary John Nott warned that any Argentine ship coming within 200 miles of the islands risked being sunk. ''We are earnest and no one should doubt our resolve.''

The move, a virtual blockade, is designed to force the Argentine junta to think again and to yield the administration of the islands back to Britain.

It is also aimed at impressing Argentine public opinion and prodding it into protesting the junta's occupation.

To go along with the military stick, Britain holds out a carrot: ''Take off your men, and we will take part in talks to achieve a lasting solution to the islands' future.'' But Mrs. Thatcher refuses to begin talks before occupation forces leave, and she is reported to have insisted on that to Mr. Haig.

The secretary of state was due to fly to Argentina April 9.

Britain may eventually have to accept a diplomatic solution. One being suggested by several national newspapers and opposition politicians is known as a ''Hong Kong arrangement.'' This would see Argentina take sovereignty and immediately lease back the islands to Britain for a lengthy period.

The islanders themselves have rejected this plan in the past. Many said they would rather leave than live under Argentine rule.

This could change if they are assured that British democracy, way of life, supplies, and markets for Falkland wool will remain.

The announcement of the interdiction zone, made by Defense Secretary Nott to an enthusiastic House of Commons late April 7, means that Britain already has, or is about to have, at least two and perhaps four nuclear submarines on station in the South Atlantic. Covering a radius of 200 miles around the Falklands is too much for a single submarine.

This does not mean an automatic end to Argentine resupply to occupying forces. Between now and April 12, when the zone is to be established, there is time for all kinds of equipment to be shipped and flown from the Argentine mainland to the islands.

Even after the zone is established, Argentine planes would be able to fly in supplies until the British task force came into range and began intercepting Argentine planes with its own aircraft.

The Argentine junta is under notice, however, that Britain has chosen its opening naval strategy: picking off Argentine vessels one by one and thus raising the cost of the occupation of the Falklands to an unacceptable level.

Meanwhile, many hopes here are resting on the shoulders of Mr. Haig. He arrived in London late April 8, saying he had been sent to help find a way out of the dispute.

He went straight into a meeting with new Foreign Secretary Francis Pym and a dinner with Prime Minister Thatcher.

Britain knew Mr. Haig as a forthright NATO commander in chief, and during the Reagan administration he has gained an image of a staunch anticommunist with a short fuse and a streak of emotionalism in a crisis.

Mrs. Thatcher knew he was eager to blunt any chance for the Soviet Union to take advantage of Argentina's need for help.

In talks with Mr. Haig, the prime minister leaned heavily on the need to confront Argentina, in an effort to persuade him to take the British side. She flatly rejected any plan by which Britain would have to accept the presence of occupying forces.