The United States and its Western allies are divided on the best way to pursue the sensitive side of Human rights at the Belgrade conference, on East-West detente, and the chief U.S. delegate Arthur Goldberg may be part of the problem.
During the first two weeks of formal speech-making, Goldberg has differed from many of his colleagues over the manner in which the 1975 Helsinki delegation on European security and cooperation should be reviewed.
While repeating that he does not seek a confrontation with the Soviet Union, he was shown that he is in favor of citing violations. Other Western delegates prefer to take a more general approach, believing that this tactic will be just as effective in the long run.
At the same time, the former Supreme Court Justice has been angered by news reports suggesting that the U.S. delegation is somehow going soft on human rights because of delicately balanced arms limitations talks in Geneva.
In private, Goldberg is believed to feel that some Western countries have been too cautious in broaching the human rights issue in Belgrade and he appears frustrated by this.
"Our problem is how to preserve allied unity without sacrifice the essential goals of this conference," one official commented.
In part, the differences between the United States and its Western allies are a product of geography. The Western European delegations have set themselves practical, if modest, objectives of winning a few concessions of principal out of the Soviet Union that would be reflected in a finale statement.
In order to achieve this, most Western European delegates, including the British, the French and the West Germans, have preferred to talk at least initially in general terms. They say they are prepared to cite specific cases, but only if the Communist countries dispute their arguments or deny that problems exist.
Goldberg, on the other hand, appears to be more interested in setting up a forum for discussing human rights abuses, both past and present. U.S. spokesmen have made it clear that they regard the Belgrade conference as a proper place to comment on human rights violations as they occur. It was in this spirit that Goldberg protested to the Yugoslav delegation at the expulsion from Yugoslavia of an American human rights activist and expressed concern at the harassment of a dissident in the Soviet Union.
Some Western delegates, however, believe that the differences in approach are largely a result of Goldberg's projection of himself as a politician rather than a professional diplomat. The ambassador emphasized the distinction between himself and other delegates at the beginning of the conference by the freedom with which he departed from his prepared speech.
Most Western delegations are composed solely of professional diplomats whose natural inclinations is to work within narrowly defined limits. Goldberg's tactics, by contrast, appear to have been to try to extend those boundaries by trying to shame the Soviets into a dialogue on human rights.
Many diplomats are cynical about whether emotional appeals to basic human instincts of the type favored by Goldberg stand much chance of success.
"Most of us tend to leave our human instincts at the door when we walk in," remarked one Western European delegate.
No one doubts Goldberg's deep personal commitment to human rights. This has been proved by his distinguished career as a labor lawyer and U.N. representative, not to mention a cut in salary from more than $100,000 a year to less than $60,000 when he accepted the post as chief U.S. delegate. Some delegates, however, believe this emotional involvement could lead him astray in the highly complex procedural world of the Belgrade meeting.
To the outsider, unaccustomed to the finer points of conference procedure, it is difficult to understand what the fuss is about. Whether the Soviet Union is mentioned by name in open debate may seem largely irrelevant when everyone knows a finger is being pointed at Moscow.
For diplomats who have been with the European security conference since it began four years ago in Helsinki, however, such subtleties are everything. If negotiations are being conducted, they argue, it is better to hint and bargain rather than come out with all guns blazing right from the start.
Apparently Goldberg is slowly being educated into the cumbersome procedures of the conference and "is gradually learning the ropes," as one seasoned Western delegate remarked.
The U.S. delegation appears to have modified its tone somewhat since Tuesday when Joyce Hughes singled out the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia for censoring mail in violation of international postal agreements. A speech the following day on economic cooperation by the deputy head of the delegation, Albert Sherer, was a model of restraint, while Goldberg avoided mentioning any names in an address on Thursday specifically directed to humanitarian problems.
Goldberg's speech was written and rewritten following lengthy consultations with NATO partners and arguments within the U.S. delegation.
Western diplomats realize that Goldberg faces the difficult task of imposing some order on his delegation. It is composed half of State Department experts and half of congressional advisers, and the two sides do not always agree. Other Western delegates have confessed at being confused on what the American line is; it appears to vary from day to day depending on whom they talked to in the U.S. delegation.
Congressional members of the U.S. delegation have expressed administration for Goldberg. "He is out there ahead of all of us - even if it does mean he's rather lonely. He's a gusty old man" was one comment.
Other delegates have spoken of personal differences and rows caused by Goldberg's sometimes abrasive personality.
It is still too soon to judge what affect Goldberg's style - alternately hectoring, charming, and whimsical - is likely to have on the conference. The opening two weeks have largely been marked by rhetoric produced for domestic consumption. The real work begins Monday when the conference, which could last until next February, divides into committees covering the three main themes of the Helsinki declaration: European security, economic cooperation and human rights.