The Carter administration ran into a cross fire of congressional disagreement yesterday about whether it has been too zealous or too timid in its championing of human rights.
This spirit in congressional attitudes toward making human rights a major element of U.S. foreign policy became evident at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations.
The subcommittee's purpose was to hear Mark L. Schneider, deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights, and a battery of other government officials describe the administration's programs for cranking human rights considerations into its dealings with other countries.
But the questioning by subcommittee members quickly turned into a seesawing litany of complaints indicating that both liberals and conservatives are confused about the effort and unhappy about some of the directions it has taken.
On the conservative side, Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (R. Ill.) charged that the administration has ignored human rights violations by leftist governments and taken a tough stance only against countries that are strongly anti-Communist.
"Why is anti-communism no longer a part of our policy?" Derwinski asked. "Why are we embracing Cuba and rejecting a longtime ally like Argentina?"
However, Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D. Calif.) took the opposite position. He charged the administration with "being bold where it's safe and good politics - like criticizing the treatment of Soviet Jews - while expressing only mild disapproval" when dealing with military allies like South Korea or traditional friends like the Philippines or Chile.
In his view, Ryan said, there was an element of "hypocrisy" in the administration's position that he found "appalling and depressing."
Schneider and the other witnesses replied that the administration's concern about human rights applies to every country - whether traditionally a friend or a foe - and that every effort is being made to express U.S. attitudes towards all countries where a rights problem exists.
However, Schneider conceded, the tactics employed cannot be the same in every case since they involve the particular type of relations that the United States has with a given country and the opportunities for leverage and persuasion that these relations afford.
"The major difficulty is that human rights is a new policy," he said. "It's hard to define, and it cuts across the entire range of interests that the United States has with other government. Therefore, these interests have to be integrated with human rights and taken into consideration."
He described a number of steps that Washington has taken to advance the humanrights cause around the world - from speaking out in international forums such as the current Belgrade conference on implementing the Helsinki accords to making rights a factor in the granting of U.S. military and economic assistance.
Many of these actions have resulted in modest gains for human rights, Schneider asserted. But he also said: "Great caution must be exercised in attempting to assert that any of these events signify substantial change in the pattern of repression in particular countries. In virtually all instances, they are only a beginning; in some, they clearly are not cosmetic efforts to lessen external pressure. In none can we assume that violations of human rights are a thing of the past."
Where specific countries were involved, the heavies! questioning involved Chile. Even the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Donald M. Fraser (D. Minn.), who generally applauded the administration's approach, pressed for explanations of recent statements by some State Department officials that have been interpreted as apologies for the Chilean regime's repressive policies.
In response, Frank J. McNeil, depety assistan' secretary of state of Lation America, said the statements were intended only to note that some situations within Chile such as the mass confinement of political prisoners and disappearances of alleged enemies of the regime - "are not as bad now as they were formerly."
However, McNeil acknowledged that "the changes so far seem more cosmetic than otherwise," that the "institutional nature" of the Chilean situation had not changed and that the State Department is still very concerned about conditions there.