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In Buenos Aires, UN talks viewed as too little, too late

The flurry of diplomatic maneuvering at the United Nations aimed at resolving the Falkland Islands crisis does not mask the feeling here that it is probably too little, too late.

A sharply beefed-up British task force in the South Atlantic is in place off the Falklands. British air and sea bombardments of Argentine military installations on the islands continued Monday for the second day in a row. Some strikes reportedly were made on installations near the Port Stanley airfield.

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Argentine military spokesmen Monday afternoon said a British landing to retake the islands could come at any moment. For a few days, the weather in the area is supposed to improve enough to make a British landing possible. Whipping cold rain and heavy fog - which make operations for both sides difficult - abated at the start of the week.

Both Argentina and Britain continue to present tough, unyielding military postures. And in UN talks, there is no apparent softening on the most contentious issues, despite guardedly optimistic statements by UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and other diplomats close to the process.

Both sides maintained their basic stances. Argentina holds that it owns and controls the islands by right of sovereignty. It is not deviating from its assertion that Argentine sovereignty over the Falklands is irrevocable and irreversible. Britain holds that the Argentine occupation April 2 was illegal and that sovereignty does not rest with Argentina.

There was, to be sure, speculation about what Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez meant when he told the CBS ''Face the Nation'' audience Sunday that ''we are not putting sovereignty as a precondition for our (diplomatic) conversations.'' The statement was seen in some quarters as a new flexibility on the part of Argentina in the UN talks.

But the speculation was shot down almost immediately by an Argentine Foreign Ministry spokesman. He called attention to a Costa Mendez statement the day before that ''negotiations must lead inexorably to recognition of Argentine sovereignty over the islands.''

The spokesman held that the foreign minister's remarks on US television were being taken out of context and that there had been no change in the Argentine stand on sovereignty.

The flap here over what Costa Mendez meant in his CBS appearance also raised a side issue - speculation on his survivability in Argentina's military-dominated government.

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How close is he to Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, the head of the military junta? Does he retain military confidence and backing in his role as foreign minister? Or has his star been eclipsed with the breakdown of Argentine-United States talks over the Falklands?

Although there was no conclusive answer, the speculation that Costa Mendez was on his way out seemed to most observers to be misguided. Mr. Costa Mendez was as visible as ever at the Foreign Ministry and in meetings with the military junta. He conferred at length Saturday with General Galtieri.

Of course, the fact that he was not in New York for the UN talks on the Falklands question helped fuel the speculation. Argentina is represented by Enrique Ros, undersecretary of foreign affairs.

But British Foreign Secretary Francis Pym is not in New York either. Britain is represented instead by its UN ambassador, Anthony Parsons.

Absence of Mr. Costa Mendez and Mr. Pym from these UN deliberations may well indicate that neither side is really hopeful that the talks will bring about a settlement of the Falklands question.

That certainly is the Argentine view. Moreover, Argentine leaders feel they are going to have to fight if they are to retain control of the Falklands.

Whether they can, in fact, hold onto the islands in the face of a British attack is debatable. Britain may prove too strong an adversary. Argentine military officials are unsure they can fend off a British landing.

But military leaders here are convinced that even a battlefield defeat can be turned into a victory for the Argentine cause. They are persuaded that the tide of world opinion is increasingly on their side, and that in defeat, they would be able to continue their posturing as the victim of ''British aggression.'' Buenos Aires newspapers continued to portray the country as victim Monday following British raids on the Falklands.

Still, Argentine resolve is based on the expectation that Argentina can hold the Falklands. The military intends to fight any British landing.

This view was reinforced late Sunday as the government-controlled television network showed an 11/2 hours of film taken following the May 1 British attack on the airfield at Port Stanley and the subsequent attack at Port Stanley and Port Darwin.

The quality of the film was extremely poor and there are some suspicions about the narration and pictures, but the program was a clear effort to marshall public opinion, to present a picture of a valiant Argentine military force on the island. The tone was entirely upbeat. It was not good theater, however, and it is as yet unclear what impact it had on the Argentine public for whom the Falklands' war still seems somewhat distant.

But there are some indications the junta may be stirring more support for the struggle than earlier. A big crowd turned out for a pro-government rally in Buenos Aires Sunday.

Speaker after speaker excoriated the British and took pot-shots at the US. The crowd cheered. In fact, the crowd appeared to be whipped into a fury, particularly about the US. The event was televised nationally and shown immediately before the battle scenes from the Falklands.

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