LONDON -- Argentina tried to buy the Falkland Islands from Britain 31 years ago but Winston Churchill's government refused the offer out of fear of being toppled by an outraged public, newly declassified documents show.
The papers, released by the Foreign Office after a 30-year restriction, said Argentine President Juan Peron sent an emissary to London in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and to offer to buy the disputed islands.
The British records said Rear Adm. Alberto Teisaire made the offer to Foreign Office officials at a private meeting at London's Park Lane hotel.
The documents did not give specific details of the offer, but quoted Teisaire as saying Buenos Aires 'wished to see Anglo-Argentine economic relations put on a firm basis, and that their proposal was that, as part of some long-term arrangement, (Britain) should surrender all ... rights and claims to the Falkland Islands.'
The British report said Lord Reading, the Foreign Office official responsible for Latin America, rejected a deal because 'the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands were British, and if a plebiscite was held, they would vote practically unanimously to remain under the British flag.'
The document added in parenthesis, 'The Admiral agreed that this was probably true.'
The British report said Reading told Teisaire 'it was inconceivable that any British government should consider the sale of the Islands.
'If they were to do so there would at once be a tremendous outcry from the public, and the government would certainly be overthrown.'
Other declassified documents reported the British embassy in Buenos Aires had been worried in 1950 that Peron was employing Nazi scientists to build an atomic bomb but those fears ended in 1953.
Documents also reported three outbreaks of tension between Britain and Argentina over South Atlantic territories.
In the first, Argentina sent sledges through the Antarctic snow to rename a British base on the Wedell Sea as 'Eva Peron Bay.'
British fears that Peron might 'seek external adventures' to divert attention from problems at home led Britain to revive its military capacity in the region in December 1953.
British military chiefs were concerned that a task force of a Royal Navy frigate and 30 Royal Marines dispatched to the area by Churchill in 1952 'was clearly inadequate to deal with an Argentine landing in force.'
Three decades later, on April 1, 1982, Argentina invaded the South Atlantic islands but its forces surrendered six weeks later after forces from a British naval task force stormed the island and recaptured Stanley, the capital.