The Belgrade conference on European security and human rights, begun eight months ago with much fanfare and more than a little verbal jousting, quietly extend its final phase last week. Hardly anybody noticed.
Yugoslavs, especially those who live here in the capital, have clearly become disillusioned with the 35-nation conference, which has somehow managed to transform vital issues of freedom and security into boring reports and position papers that are longer on wind than fire.
Belgrade residents have coined a new verb, kebsovati, which roughly translated into "talk endlessly to no effect" to describe their perception of what the hundreds of diplomats attending the conference do each day. The meeting's initials are KEB in Serbian.
For Yugoslav politicians and diplomats, the conference remains an important token of international recognition for their country's sturdy nonalignment, but for most residents of Belgrade the conference has become synonymous with privilege - sleak limousines, duty-free shopping, immunity from parking fines and priority telephone calls.
Despite the view taken by common Yugoslavs, and the time-consuming and cumbersome way the meeting has proceeded, most observers agree that the very fact that the conference was convened is important.
It has raised considerable expectations throughout that Soviet bloc and their governments' domestic policies with their international statements, made here and elsewhere, on human rights questions.
If the conferees were to produce a substantial final communique reflecting a new awareness and understanding between East and West on human rights and security issues. Yugoslavs might change the meaning of "kebsovati" and would probably conclude that the inconvenience the conference has caused them would be a small price to pay.
But two weeks after the representatives of 33 European countries, the United States, and Canada has reassembled in Belgrade for the third and final time, no progress had been made in drafting the document that will sum up their work. In an attempt to break the deadlock. U.S. chief delegation Arthur Goldberg yesterday accused the Soviet Union of tabling an inadequate draft of a final document that failed to address the issues raised during the meeting.
Soviet delegates have been refusing to negotiate about anything other than their own three-page draft. Goldberg claimed that the document ignored "many weeks of painstaking review of implementation" of the 1975 Helsinki declaration and in particular the question of compliance with its provisions on human rights.
The United States, along with other Western and most neutral countries, is publicly committed to negotiating a substantial document that would include at least some of the 100 or so new proposals aimed at strengthening the document signed at Helsinki. The U.S. delegation has its own comprehensive draft that it plans to introduce if the stalema perists much longer.
Nobody knows at this stage whether this Soviet intransigence is unyielding or whether it is merely on opening gambit in their traditionally tough negotiating tactics. Western diplomats claim there is some evidence that other East European countries, notably Poland and Hungary, are not entirely happy with the Soviet stand since it jeoyardizes possible western concessions on trade and economic cooperation.
Soviet delegates, however, are justifying their position by arguing that many of the Western proposals are propagandistic and have helped create an "unconstructive atmosphere" at the conference.
This illustrates a dilemma faced by U.S. delegates at the outset of the meeting: whether to treat the Belgrade conference primarily as a forum for raising human rights violations or as a diplomatic negotiation geared to securing the best possible final document.
Goldberg put more emphasis on the former goal, provoking Soviet charges of "fanaticism" and giving the Russians what some observers call a ready made excuse for not giving away much in the final communiquew goldberg has rejected this argument as spurious, pointing to the fact that the United States has not been deterred from pursuing detnte merly because it has been criticized by the Soviet Union.
It can be argued that if Western delegations had avoided mentioning specific shortcomings in the implementation of the Helsinki declaration, further Soviet concessions would in any case have been valueless.
Soviet tactics may well change, but there is a general recognition that the final document is unlikely to contain additional pledges on human rights. All decisions have to be made by consensus, and East European countries are clearly not going to agree to any criticism, either overt or implied, of their own record. The most U.S. diplomats hope for is a general statement reaffirming the humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki accords.
Given Soviet intransigence, Western delegates are subtly preparing public opinion for the possibility that the final document may not contain very much. At press briefings the emphasis is switching to other gains from Belgrade. It is argued that, whether the Soviet bloc likes it or not, the happiness of the individual in other countries has become an acceptable subject for discussion at multilateral gatherings.
Western diplomats also claim that the mere fact that a review conference has been held at all has lent greater importance to the pledges given at Helsinki - which might otherwise have been forgotten like so many other finely-worded international agreements.
As it is, the holding of a further review conference, probably in Madrid in 1980, is provided for in the Helsinki final act and is not essentially in dispute.
It seems safe to predict that, whatever the contents of the final communique. Western delegates will acclaim the meeting on balance a success.
As one West European delegation chief remarked privately last week: "I like to have as many safety nets under me as possible. Of course, I still want a detailed final document incorporating many of our new proposals on human rights. But if we don't get it, that won't mean the meeting has been a failure."