The Argentine government submitted its formal answer today to new British proposals for a U.N.-sponsored solution to the Falkland Islands crisis as a range of high officials here sharply criticized London's diplomatic stance.
Content of the response was not disclosed here or at the United Nations.
In New York, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar called in British Ambassador Anthony Parsons late Tuesday to pass on the Argentine view, Reuter reported.
Two hours earlier Perez de Cuellar had met with Argentine envoy Enrique Ros. On entering the meeting, held at his request, Ros said that his government's response was an effort "to bridge and narrow the differences, taking into account the principle of preserving peace and the settlement of this dispute in a peaceful way."
Asked whether this was his government's final response, Ros said: "The word final does not exist."
Seemingly preparing to blame Britain for a possible breakdown in the U.N. peace talks, Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez told reporters this morning that "the British position gets harder every time."
Defense Minister Amadeo Frugoli also said in a radio interview that while Argentina has tried to be flexible in the negotiations conducted by Perez de Cuellar, "Great Britain responds with a hardening of its diplomatic position."
In London earlier, a 75-minute Cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher concentrated on military options in the Falklands, Washington Post correspondent Jay Ross reported. Speaking to Parliament, Thatcher repeated four times that this was a "critical week" in attempting to reach a peaceful settlement. She accused Argentina of attempting to "spin out" the negotiations. "We cannot have endless Argentine prevarication," she added.
Foreign Minister Francis Pym told Conservative members of Parliament that he thought a diplomatic solution was not likely.
Adding to the tension in Britain was a report that the Canberra, a luxury liner converted to carry 2,000 troops, had entered the war zone. The presence of the Canberra is regarded by military analysts as one of the final steps necessary for an invasion. There were, however, no reports of military action in the South Atlantic.
The Argentine written answer was to new proposals submitted to Perez de Cuellar yesterday by Parsons, Britain's envoy to the United Nations.
"No one knows what is going to happen in the next 24 hours," Costa Mendez told reporters at midday as he headed for a meeting with the military junta. But Argentine government officials here continued to express pessimism that an agreement would be reached before heavy new fighting begins between Britain and Argentina in the South Atlantic.
One Foreign Ministry official said tonight that the Argentine document contains "some new ideas" on a possible solution. This source indicated, however, that Argentine officials were now concerned mainly with keeping the negotiations going and did not expect their proposals to result in a quick agreement.
Attention already appeared to be focusing on the battle now widely expected to begin this week in the Falklands, known here as the Malvinas Islands, a British possession invaded by Argentina April 2.
Navy Commander-in-Chief Jorge Anaya left Buenos Aires after the junta meeting today for a southern naval base, and told reporters that he was on an "operations mission." Last night, the Air Force commander, Gen. Basilio Lami Dozo, returning from a similar inspection trip to the south, declared that Argentina would launch a "massive attack" on the British fleet as soon as it was "perfectly located and within the range of all of the system of arms that we have."
The Argentine military governor of the Falklands, Gen. Mario Benjamin Menendez, also granted a radio interview by telephone this morning to declare the readiness of his troops for a British attack.
Menendez said that the islands were now enduring "a typical Malvinas winter." He added that "we cannot talk of a complete suspension" of the flights from the Argentine mainland to supply the Falklands, despite the damage apparently done by British bombing to Argentine air fields.
The Argentine joint chiefs of staff issued a communique tonight saying that the only military action in the Falklands between Monday and Tuesday night had been naval bombardments of Argentine positions and attempts by British surveillance planes to overfly the area, "which were prevented by the fire of the antiaircraft batteries."
Growing fears of new fighting were exemplified by a visit by the British Community Council, which represents the large British and Anglo-Argentine community in Buenos Aires, to President Leopoldo Galtieri to arrange the evacuation of all children from the Falkland Islands before any major battle began.
The Argentine Foreign Ministry also released a statement today attacking the renewal of economic sanctions against Argentina by the European Economic Community, even as officials maintained that the embargo on Argentine exports to 10 European nations had done little damage.
Argentine officials and economists said here today that while the month-long embargo and its extension had done little damage to Argentina's already tottering economy, further extensions of the ban on sales in Europe could seriously damage some export sectors.
Officials noted that the original ban, though covering more than 20 percent of Argentina's annual sales abroad, exempted contracts already signed or being completed. Private economists here reported that dozens of contracts were quickly signed last month by businessmen acting before the embargo took effect.
Several economists also noted that European countries could not continue to press Argentina economically for much longer without risking severe damage to their own financial systems.