Just how the human-rights records of the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries will be examined at the Belgrade conference in the fall could be decided by a dash.
After eight days of talking at a preliminary meeting charged with preparing an agenda, the division between East and West on how the main conference should be conducted has become symbolized by apunctuation mark. The Soviet Union has hinted at a possible breakdown in the conference unless the dash goes and the United States is determined to see that it, or something very similar, stays.
The dash is in a proposal for the agenda of the fall conference. A sentence says that the main issues will be "the 35 nations' success in complying with the Helsinki accords, including guarantees on human rights - and the new proposals for improving cooperation within Europe."
For the West, the dash represents the separation of two key issues on the agenda: discussion of implementation of the two-year-old Helsinki agreement and discussion of new proposals. In the Western view, and examination of progress or lack of progress since Helsinki should both precede any discussion of future steps and be separate from it.
"We maintain that there must be a clear and distinct division between the two" commented a commented a Western delegate. "That is something we are not repared to concede."
In the Soviet draft, there is no mention of a dash. Implementaiton and new proposals are lumped together, a move that Western delegates claim could result in merely an insipid exchange of views in the fall.
The dash first made its appearance at Belgrade in a draft agenda circulated by nine neutral non-aligned countries. It was an attempt at compromise between the Soviet draft and the Western draft, proposed by the United States and Britain, which split implementation and new proposals into points one and two.
All delegations of course lcaim that right, in the form of the Helsinki declaration, is on their side. In its proposal, the Soviet Union lifts a passage from the declaration word for word, but Western delegates say their proposal is closer to its meaning.
So far there has been no sign from either the Soviet Union or the United States that might suggest a possible compromise. Both delegations remain poles apart in their view of the form the main conference should take.
Evidently intending to frighten the West into more concessions, Soviet chief delegate Yuli Vorontsov warned of the posible "failure of our missin" if delegates depart from the final declaration - by which he meant his own country's proposal.
He took Western delegates to task for what he called their "light-hearted attitude" which he said could lead to "great unpleasantness."
Vorontsov, who spent more than 10 years working in the United States as a Soviet diplomat, later told Western journalists he had not meant to sound harsh but merely wanted to "speak out frankly of the dangers which lie ahead." Western diplomats said, however, that they were taken aback by what they called his "threatening tone."
Despite all the fuss over human rights, the Soviet Union appears to have approached the present meeting with a much more clearly throughout strategy than the United States. Their tactics are to try to plit the Western countries and win over the nonaligned.
They have already achieved some success in this, for there are clear signs of cracks in the Western bloc. The French, traditionally mavericks, have moved toward the Soviets by suggesting insertion of the words "as well as" between discussion of implementation and new proposals. This borrows words from the Soviet draft and has the effect of blurring the distinction between the two iddues still further.
By contrast to the heavy-handed threats of Vorontsov, U.S. Ambassador Albert W. Sherer has been achieving to quiet diplomacy. But in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] American diplomats have [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the lack of cohesion arouse [WORD ILLEGIBLE] countries.
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The position was complete to reverse during the negotiations before the Helsinki document was signed at that time it was the Soviet Union that was eager that the conference should be a success. The Soviets made a large concession to the West by including provisions on human rights - a mistake they are unlikely to make again.