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In the Falklands' shadow: claims to Antarctic

Hanging over the outcome of the Falkland Islands dispute is uncertainty over two items in which Britain has an enormous stake: its money and its claim to part of Antarctica.


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In the City of London, the Falklands crisis sent the stock market and the British pound reeling for the second day in a row. The pound is now at its lowest level relative to the US dollar since October 1977.

Britain froze all dealings with Argentina, but financial dealers worried more about the future stability of the British government itself.

The City, one of the world's financial centers, prefers a Conservative to a Labour government. Any prospect that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher may be in danger of losing her job will tend to depress shares and currency rates further. Uncertainties are likely to continue for several weeks.

A cheaper pound puts more pressure on Britain to keep its interest rates high--just at a time when oil prices and the British inflation rate are both falling.


The Falkland Islands are not covered by the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, which forbids conflicting national claims to potential oil and mineral resources. But the islands serve as one of the gateways and communications centers to Britain's five permanent and three summertime bases in the Antarctic.

Although no commercially exploitable oil has been found in the mile-thick ice that covers Antarctica (an area as big as Western Europe and Australia put together), more than a dozen major nations want to keep open their claims to future finds. The treaty expires in 1991.

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Argentina and Chile both dispute parts of the wedge-shaped British claim south of latitude 60 degrees.

Sir Vivian Fuchs, former director of the British Antarctica Survey says no minerals or oil have yet been found but that potential exists. He doubts that Argentina will withdraw from the treaty in order to press its own claims on the area it holds and perhaps on the areas it disputes in British and Chilean claims.

Since the treaty does not cover ocean waters, Argentina will try to exploit fisheries within 200 miles of the Falklands, which Argentines call Las Malvinas.

But the British Antarctica Survey has decided to try to evacuate its 26 scientists and two filmmakers from its communications base on the South Georgia Islands, dependencies of the Falklands.

Antarctica, one-tenth of the earth's surface, has become more attractive to geologists and oil drillers because of the world's need for oil and new advances in prospecting and drilling techniques.

By seizing the Falklands, Argentina raises long-term questions about its future policies toward Antarctica.

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