The trial of four dissidents in Czechoslovakia has led to the first direct clash between the United States and the Soviet Union at the Belgrade conference on East-West detente and human rights.
The clash, which eventually incolved a number of other countries, developed after the chief U.S. delegate, Arthur Goldberg, described the trial as "a particularly disturbing development." He was addressing a session of a committee convened to examine the humanitarian provisions of the 1975 Helsinki agreement.
Quoting a news agency report, Goldberg mentioned the case of a reporter for the French Communist Party newspaper L'Humanite who was barred from entering Czechoslovakia to cover the trial. Three out of four defendents, who have been sentenced to between 14 months and 3 1/2 years in prison, belonged to the "Charter 77' group which is pressing for the implementation of the Helsinki declaration by the Czechoslovak government.
Goldberg's remarks drew sharp comment from chief Soviet delegate Yuli Vorontsov> who described them as an attempt to interfere - in the internal affairs of another country.
Vorontsov described American interest in L'Humanite - a newspaper he said Goldbergs did not read regularly - as humorous. But he added: "It does not amuse us."
Other East European countries, including Hungary and East Germany, added their protests to that of the Soviet Union. But the chairman, representative of the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, rejected calls for a point of order saying that delegates had a perfect right to raise such issues.
Another Soviet delegate said the United States was trying to push the conference in an unproductive direction - towards confrontation and the mutual exchange of accusations. Britain and France expressed support for Goldberg's statement.
Goldberg's comparatively restrained remarks - which were made before the verdicts were announced - and the sharp East European reactio illustrate the difficulties of turning the Blegrade conference into a forum for examining present-day human rights violations.
Western delegates claimed that they have succeeded in putting on record their disapproval of the Prague trial and have made the point that the conference is a proper place to react to such an event. A U.S. spokesman rejected the Soviet argument that Goldberg's statement constituted interference in Czechoslavakia's internal affairs.
The right of citizens to monitor compliance with the Helsinki declaration without being harassed or imprisoned has been a major theme of Western speeches to the conference.