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Chapter Six THE DECISION TO INVADE On the morning of 25 March the British Cabinet met for thefirsttime since the crisis had broken. By now the Foreign Office had received news from Endurance that Bahia Paraiso had arrived at Leith. That evening three landing craft and a military helicopter had been seen, as had the pennant of the Argentine Navy's Senior Officer, Antarctic Squadron. But the full significance of its presence was not yet appreciated ; the Foreign Office believed that it was an unarmed, scientific ship - which it normally would have been. More significant was intelligence to the effect that warships had been dispatched. It was assumed, incorrectly, that their orders were either to prevent Endurance evacuating the workers or else, if required, to intercept her en route to Stanley.1 Britain was in a bind. Because it did not yet know that Argentine marines had just disembarked at Leith it was assumed that the option remained to evacuate the workers. However, there was now a risk that Endurance would be intercepted or some counter-action taken against the Falklands. There seemed little option but to search for a compromise , which Carrington at the time still hoped would take the form ofthe voluntary evacuation ofthe workers by Argentina. Even if some compromise could be found to the particular problem it was supposed that the Argentine attitude on the wider negotiations would harden even further. The previous day Carrington had circulated his draft letter to Costa Mendez on the need to get the negotiations back on course. It now had to be recognized that this was 65 Crisis unlikely to happen and that some action such as the cutting of the air service was possible.* IfArgentina went further and took military action, defence of the Islands at such a long range seemed wellnigh impossible. With the attention of senior ministers now engaged the possibility of confrontation was at last contemplated. The Cabinet agreed that when John Nott, the Secretary ofDefence, returned from a NATO meeting in the United States the withdrawal of Endurance from service might need to be reconsidered. The Prime Minister later agreed that contingency planning for a sea service to the Islands should be taken forward with some urgency. By the time Carrington had returned from Cabinet to his office it was apparent that the workers were not going to be evacuated by Argentina. If Britain attempted to remove them there was a risk of a military encounter in which Britain would probably fare worst. While the Argentine Government should be in no doubt that 'we are committed to the defence of sovereignty in South Georgia as elsewhere,' the Ambassador in Buenos Aires was instructed to attempt to find a way out of the impasse. Carrington offered to send a personal representative ofhis own to Buenos Aires or a personal message from Mrs Thatcher to President Galtieri. The obvious compromise involved Britain backing down from its insistence that the workers should leave. This had been proposed by Costa Mendez on 24 March and now he raised it again. He had then said that it was impossible to remove Davidoff s men in apparent response to threats but he suggested that they could go to Grytviken to get their 'white cards' (the document issued by Argentina for travel between Argentina and the Falkland Islands under the 1971 Communications Agreement). Williams had not considered this proposal feasible because the 1971 Communications Agreement did not apply to the dependencies, a point on which Costa Mendez disagreed. The Argentine Foreign Minister ruled out the obvious alternative - stamping passports - as unacceptable. In the absence of anything better, Williams recommended Costa Mendez's approach. * Later that day it was decided not to send the letter for fear that it would exacerbate the situation. (See above p. 35.) 66 The Decision to Invade Governor Hunt, however, argued that, as the white-card arrangement applied only to the Falklands and not to the dependencies, the authorization should be based on stamping the Argentines' passports and not their white cards. The Government agreed to Hunt's crucial proviso. In the evening of 25 March the Ambassador was instructed to tell Costa Mendez that 'as an ultimate act of goodwill' a visit by Davidoffs party to Grytviken would see the men furnished with the necessary documentation to enable a return to Leith and their continuing to work.2 Costa Mendez said he would take the proposal with him to consult President Galtieri. On 26 March the Ambassador...


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