The British government today gave a resounding endorsement to President Jimmy Carter's campaign for human rights in the Soviet world and said it also would speak out on teh subject.
In a major address, David Owen, the new foreign minister, cited "President Carter whose obvious concern for the whole area of human rights is crucially important."
Owen's address to the Diplomatic and Commonwealth Writers Association is the strongest support President Carter has received from abroad for his policy on huam rights. The French and other Western governments have refrained from publicly criticizing his tactics but made clear their distaste for them.
Owen rejected the Soviet contention that highlighting abuses abroad amounts to "interfering in the other people's internal affairs."
"Abuses of human rights, wherever they may occur, are the legitimate subject of international concern," Owen said. "The dignity of man transcends national frontiers."
Britain's government, he said, "shall not hesitate to state our views frankly where we consider the performance of countries to be demonstrably unsatisfactory . . . The Warsaw Pact countries had, and still have, much ground to make up."
Owen explicitly aligned London with "the attitude" of the Carter administration, decrying violations "in every corner of the globe."
"We will apply the same standards and judgements to communist countries," he said, "as we do to Chile, Uganda and South Africa.
The 38-year-old foreign secretary spoke out on the eve of a visit that he and Prime Minister James Callaghan are to make to Washington next week. The timing was deliberate, but the words did not reflect any new impulse from Owen's promotion.
Top foreign Office officials have been laoring for weeks over a coherent statement of the British view toward defente. This was a major and private preoccupation of Foreign Secretary Anthony Crosland's final weeks. His death 11 days ago from a stroke brought in Owen who became the vehicle tonight for the Foreign Ministry's concentrated thinking.
In his speech, Owen cautioned that governments "must balance morality with reality," that their language will frequently be less "exhilarating" than the "highly articulate statements of famous exiles from Eastern Europe."
In raising questions of another government's treatment toward its citizens, he said, "We are beginning to encroach on fundamental attitudes, on human behavior, and the issues go to the heart of each sides perception of itself and its interests."
"It would be folly indeed," Owen said, "for one side to make the process of detente so distasteful to the othe that it would prefer to opt out altogether. The golden rule must be that neither side should pursue policies which so raise the level of confrontation that the structure of detente is itself threatened."
This was the closest Owen came to hinting at any reservations about President Carter's outspokenness. A Foreign Office summary of the speech, possibly based on an earlier draft, was blunter. It said, "declaratory statements are not always appropriate; the private pressure may sometimes be more effective."
But the government evidently had second thoughts and the final version was softer.
Owen acknowledged that in the 18 months since the Helsinki agreement was signed, "a widespread feeling has developed in the West that too little has changed for the better and that some important things may have changed for the worst."
But in contrast with what he called the "crude and arbitrary approach of the 1940s and 1950s," West and East have found "relatively sophisiticated techniques for managing relations." As a result, there is today "less risk of misunderstanding, less risk of military confrontation and therefore less risk of nuclear catastrophe."
The recent disappointment stems from the Warsaw Pact's constant buildup of its armed forces and its failure to uphold the Helsinki pledges on "human rights and fundamental freedoms . . . free exchange of peoples and ideas."
Even so, Helsinki has generated an unexpected bonus, the demand within Communist nations that their governments live up to the language of the agreement. Owen cited the Charter 77 dissidents in Czechoslovakia who quote the Helsinki Final Act in insisting on free speech and human rights.
The Communist world "must recognize," Owen said, that Western concern with human rights in the East "is not a diversionary tactic," not designed to provoke revolt, "but an integral part of foreign policy in Western democracies."
No democratic government, Owen observed, "can or should ignore legitimate concern voiced by sections of public opinion over the plight of individuals in other countries who are deprived of basic human rights."
In another warning to Moscow, Owen echoed former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger that "detente is indivisible and does not stop in Europe." This is taken here to mean that the detente process is damaged by Soviet attempts directly or through proxies like Cuba - to intervene in southern Africa or other global trouble spots.
Threaded throughout the speech was the British view of the complex nature of detente, "a permanent state of negotiation" in which "East and West seek to manage the mutual threat presented by each others nuclear arsenals."
It is, said Owen, "a relationship in which competition between the two systems exists side-by-side with the search for common ground."
Detente's major achievement, Owen said, has been the "willingness of the U.S. and the Soviet Union to engage in talks on strategic arms limitations." The best measure of progress, he said, will be the outcome of the next round, of strategic arms talks. "We can by all accounts be reasonably hopeful that there will be some advance this year."
Owen also touched on the forthcoming Belgrade conference to review how the Helsinki accord has been carried out. Britain, he said, will focus on barriers placed against reuniting families divided between East and West.
He indicated that the West would not accept new amendments to the Helsinki pact - the Soviet Union is believed to favor a declaration that unemployment is a denial of a fundamental right - "until we are all satisfied that the Final Act itself is working effectively."