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On Britain's side

Britain's Foreign Minister Pym arrived in the United States yesterday. Argentina's Foreign Minister Costa Mendez arrives there tomorrow. Presumably Washington is not letting the occasion pass without reaffirming a principled basic position toward the two parties, whatever the ups or downs of public diplomacy in the headlines.

To be blunt, neither party should be left in any doubt about which side the US would be on in the event of a breakdown in negotiations. It would have to be on Britain's side. There would be reason enough in loyalty to an old friend and fellow member of an alliance pledged to mutual security. But there is also the principle of support for international law, of standing against aggression, whoever the victim. There can be no neutrality toward Argentina's armed seizure of the Falklands, whatever its territorial claims. Nor is there a principled halfway position on the right of self-determination for the islanders as called for by Britain.

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All this, of course, should go without saying. It bears repetition in light of confusion surrounding Washington's efforts to be an evenhanded honest broker in long-distance efforts to prevent war. There is no conflict between being true to this role and maintaining clear convictions on right and wrong.

Naturally, Britain - and Western Europe as a whole - might have looked for the US to leap to their support in sanctions against aggressor Argentina. After all, the US has expected Europe to join it in sanctions against aggressor Russia. But Britain has tried to swallow its disappointment and participate in the exchange of peace proposals without embarrassing the would-be peacemaker.

Naturally, Argentina -- and much of Latin America -- might have hoped the US would take a kind of Monroe Doctrine attitude against European encroachment on the Western Hemisphere, minimizing the encroachment of its new friend Argentina on the Falklands and maximizing disdain for any military and diplomatic posturing by the British. But Argentina has not tactfully refrained from embarrassing the US. The generals defied requests not to undercut the mediation effort by invoking the 1947 Rio Pact for reciprocal assistance among nations in the hemisphere. They gained assent from the Organization of American States for a ministers' conference next week. This is the primary reason for Foreign Minister Costa Mendez's trip to the US.

What a mockery for Argentina to bring up the pact against Britain after Argentina itself flew in the face of the document's opening declaration. This pledges the signatories not to resort to force in any manner inconsistent with the United Nations charter.

Latin American governments reportedly show widespread support for Argentina's claim to the Falklands - but not for the use of force in asserting that claim. They have an opportunity to make this known during the OAS meeting.

Indeed, the more all nations, let alone the now spotlighted United States, display their opposition to the invasion the less Argentina's violation of law and human rights will tempt others to try the same.

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