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EC ministers sidestep early vote on Argentine sanctions

The foreign ministers from the 10 European Community countries delicately fended off British pressure to renew trade sanctions against Argentina over the Falklands crisis.

At an informal meeting here over the weekend, they postponed their final decision until May 16 -- the day before the month-long import ban is scheduled to expire.

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It is understood that several ministers, including Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany and Emilo Colombo of Italy, argued at the exceptionally secret meeting to delay the decision until the very last moment. This would give hectic diplomatic efforts now under way the fullest chance for success.

''The ministers generally and genuinely hope that a peaceful solution will be found before May 17, making the application of sanctions superfluous,'' a Dutch source said. ''They don't want to do or say anything that would complicate the situation.''

There was no doubt following the weekend meeting, however, that the EC countries still believe Britain is right to maintain pressure on Argentina to withdraw from the islands.

Belgian Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans, the president of the EC, said: ''The ministers today reaffirmed their political and diplomatic solidarity with Britain.''

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