The Organization of American States, overriding U.S. objections, capped several hours of closed-door debate early this morning by voting, 17 to 0, to approve a resolution recognizing Argentine sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and calling on Britain to "cease immediately" hostilities in the South Atlantic.
The United States, Chile, Colombia and Trinidad abstained on the final vote.
The United States had been fighting an uphill battle through the night to dissuade the OAS from adopting the resolution, whose overtly pro-Argentine language is regarded by U.S. officials as harmful to American efforts to mediate the Falklands dispute.
The final vote was delayed while the U.S. delegation sought to eliminate or water down language that the United States argued would be unacceptable to Britain.
Specifically, the United States objected to sections of the resolution that recognize Argentina's "right of sovereignty" over the disputed islands, that "deplore" the action of Britain's European Economic Community partners in imposing sanctions against Argentina and that, in the U.S. view, call on Britain to make a greater show of good faith than is asked of Argentina.
Removal of these provisions would have brought the resolution into conformity with the appeal Monday by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. for pursuing a solution based on a cease-fire, removal of Argentine occupation forces from the Falklands and negotiations for a settlement of the islands' future status.
However, that would have been unacceptable to Argentina, which wants the other Latin American countries to make a show of solidarity with its cause to help counter backing given to Britain in the United Nations and elsewhere.
For that reason, the U.S. effort to make the resolution more even-handed was preordained to failure, and the vote to produce produced support for Argentina by 17 of the 21 OAS members eligible to vote.
The United States, Colombia, Chile and Trinidad had been the only nations regarded certain to abstain or vote against the resolution.
Colombia, involved in territorial disputes with neighboring countries, has objected to Argentina's occupying the Falklands by force; Chile is engaged in a tense dispute with Argentina over possession of some islands in the Beagle Channel, and Trinidad has argued that the Argentine action ignores the wishes of the people in the Falklands.
Even in its final form, the resolution amounts only to a show of moral support, and contains no call for OAS members to take economic, diplomatic or military action against Britain under the 1947 Rio treaty of reciprocal hemispheric assistance. It calls on both sides to refrain from further hostile actions, and urges full implementation of a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution calling for cessation of hostilities, negotiations and Argentina's withdrawal from the islands it invaded April 2.
Although Argentina invoked the Rio treaty to call the OAS meeting into session, it refrained from asking for specific steps because it was clear that other Latin American countries would not offer anything other than rhetorical backing.
Since the meeting began yesterday an almost unbroken procession of Latin foreign ministers and ambassadors has proclaimed that the sympathies of their governments are with Argentina.
These included Nicaragua, whose revolutionary government has charged that the United States is trying to destabilize it with a covert action program that allegedly includes plans for training of anti-government insurgents by agents of Argentina's rightist military regime.
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto, in an apparent reference to his country's dispute with Washington, said, "Nicaragua understands perfectly how painful this type of situation is because the sister republic of Argentina is not the only country which suffers it."
D'Escoto also charged that the Rio treaty "has in the recent and painful past been used as an instrument of aggression against the other peoples of the Americas."
That was a reference to the fact that, under U.S. prodding, the treaty was used in the 1950s and 1960s to take actions against communist Cuba and leftist forces in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
At one point, Argentine Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez interrupted the meeting to say that his government had information that British forces might attack the Falklands within the next 24 to 48 hours.
He gave no further information to back up his charge and, despite his plea for urgent action, the meeting continued through the night as U.S. delegates wrangled with their Latin counterparts over the wording of the resolution.
As originally offered by a group of Latin American countries, it calls for a cease-fire, with Britain withdrawing its naval forces from the vicinity of the Western Hemisphere; implementation by international organizations of all applicable resolutions, including the U.N. Security Council's call for Argentine forces to quit the islands, and continuing peace negotiations.