President Carter sought to soften his position on human rights in international lending organizations but Congress refused yesterday to go along.
The House rejected a written appeal by the President against adopting "an overly rigid approach" to legislation that would make a country's human rights record a condition of its eligibility for loans.
Rep. Herman Badillo (D-N.Y.) said the moderating language sought by Carter would "signal to all countries that the words of Jimmy Carter have no meaning."
"We can't simply say this administration is better [on the human rights issue] and take Congress out of the ball game," Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) argued.
And Rep. Mary Rose Oaka (D-Ohio) said, "We cannot follow the Presient blindly. We have to follow our own instincts and not regress on human rights."
The attempt by the Carter administration to soften a requirement that U.S. representatives to multilateral financial institutions vote against most aid to countries that have a pattern of violating basic human rights was the first signal of retrenchment on the administration's often-stated concern for human rights as a principal goal of American foreign policy.
That stand brought harsh words from Moscow and may have figured in Moscow's curt rejection of U.S. disarmament proposals in a recent arms limitation meeting in Moscow that Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance attended. It caused five Latin American countries to end military aid relations with the United States rather than accept what they consider interference in internal affairs by Washington.
The bill the House passed yesterday by a 194-156 vote provides for increased American participation in multilateral financial institutions by authorizing U.S. constributions of $5.2 billion over three years to, primarily the World Bank and Asian and African development banks.
What the Carter administration did not want added to the bill was language that requires U.S. representatives to those institutions to vote against most aid to countries with a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, inc!uding torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, prolonged jailing without charges or harboring international terrorists.
Instead the administration had backed language adopted by House Banking Committee that would seek to advance the cause the human rights by channeling aid to countries that don't violate human rights, without a mandatory vote by U.S. representatives.
In a letter to Banking Committee Chairman Henry S. Reuss (D-Wis.), Carter had written, "In the development banks, we want to implement this country's commitment to promoting human rights without adopting an overly rigid approach which would subvert the integrity and effectiveness of the institutions in promoting economic and social development in the poorer countries."
Carter has also sent two high-ranking State Department officials to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to tell house members the linking of human rights to foreign aid was "negative" and in some cases counterproductive. Patricia Derian, State's special coordinator for human rights and Terence Todman, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, told House subcommittee Carter wanted to try a more positive approach and wanted more flexibility.
But a coalition of liberal Democrats, who favor the hard-line stand, and conservative Republicans announced their intention to keep Carter on the hard-line course.
House leaders, who has supported Carter's softer language, also said they thought the vote would be close.
In the end, the tougher language offered by Badillo passed by a voice vote, indicating that the leadership did not have the votees to block it and was not willing to force members to go on record for or against the Carter administration.