WASHINGTON — The United States called Thursday for settlement of a fishing dispute in the Falkland Islands and suggested that British declaration of a 200-mile conservation zone around the islands need not worry Argentina.
Argentina reacted Thursday by canceling scheduled discharges for military draftees, vowing to continue naval patrols in the area and announcing it will create a special military committee to study the situation.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, announcing the new zone to the House of Commons, said the action was in compliance with international law. He said Britain might "use armed force in appropriate circumstances" to defend its claim.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman characterized the British action as an interim move and said Britain has indicated a willingness to make other arrangements before the plan goes into effect next Feb. 1.
"We would hope that Argentina and the United Kingdom could work out arrangements either on a bilateral or a multilateral basis to resolve this dispute," Redman said.
Britain, which retook the South Atlantic islands from Argentine occupation forces after a 10-week battle that killed 1,000 men in 1982, decided Wednesday to extend its fishing zone around the islands from three to 200 nautical miles.
Since the war, Britain has barred Argentine vessels from a 150-mile zone around the islands.
Redman said the United States is still studying the British order, but "we would note that while a 200-mile fishing conservation zone is declared, the British have made clear their intention to actively enforce a 150-mile zone, which is coterminous with the previously declared exclusion zone."
Open to Other Plans
"The British have also made clear that this is an interim agreement and that they are open to making other bilateral or multilateral arrangements before or after enforcement of the fishing conservation zone begins on Feb. 1, 1987."
Redman said there is no reason to believe that hostilities between the two countries are imminent or likely.
Asked whether Britain was within its rights to declare a 200-mile zone, Redman said, "It is legitimate for a state to claim a fishing zone up to 200 miles off the coasts of its territory."
But he added, "Our position has been that we do not take a position on the sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina and that we urge it to be resolved by peaceful means."
The Falklands are about 300 miles off the southern Argentine coast, and the new fishing zone overlaps Argentine territorial waters.
In Buenos Aires, Argentine President Raul Alfonsin rejected the British move as a provocation and an encroachment on Argentine sovereignty, saying the action will "cause serious tensions and conflicts, with consequences as yet unforeseeable."
Defense Minister Horacio Jaunarena told foreign reporters the armed forces were not placed on alert but that naval vessels remained under orders to patrol the country's 200-mile offshore zone.
"It's our zone. The boats are carrying out their normal patrols," he said. "We are not trying to provoke any incident that could cause Britain" to complain of Argentine aggression.