"Good resolutions, good resolutions. Fifteen condemnations of the United States," said Abdul Mushin Abu Meizer, the Palestine Liberation Organization's chief delegate, as the Islamic foreign ministers ended their conference today.
A few minutes later, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Ibn Faisal, referring to U.S. hopes that the conference would embarrass the Soviet Union, asked jokingly, "Do you think this is an American conference, as many people are saying."
Great power rivalries stood at the heart of this conference of Islamic nations, many of which form what President Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has called the "arc of crisis" that stretches from North Africa through Turkey and the turbulent Middle East to troubled South Asia.
The region has become the focus of a U.S.-Soviet power struggle, and the Islamic world made it clear today it does not like to be in the center of the battle. Nonetheless, the major controversies at this meeting revolved around the big power issues. The United States was condemned for its support of Israel, Egypt and the Camp David acords, for its attempt to pressure Iran through sanctions and for its effort to rescue the American hostages held there for more than six months. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was condemned for its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
If was difficult, however, for many of the Islamic nations -- steeped in anti-Americanism because of the U.S. support of Israel -- to side with the United States over the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
Oddly enough, it was the man who has come to symbolize emotional hatred of America, Iranian Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who tried to steer the conference on a middle road that included condemning both the United States and the Soviet Union.
"When this conference condemns the United States for its support of Israel, opposition to Palestine and actions in Vietnam, we should not hesitate for one minute from condemning the Soviet Union for its invasion of Afghanistan," Ghotbzadeh told his fellow foreign ministers. "We should be logical, united and have no fear of the superpowers."
This time, however, the condemnation of the Soviet Union was far more muted than in January. Then, the Islamic conference handed Moscow the strongest denunciation it had ever received from the group of nations which embraces the Moslem, nonaligned and Third World which the Soviets have assiduously cultivated over 30 years.
Seeing that that move did not work, the foreign ministers decided to seek a negotiated settlement that the conference secretary general, Habib Chatti, called "mission impossible." He said a three-man committee composed of himself, Ghotbzadeh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Aga Shahi would try to forge a national front between the Soviet-installed Afghan government of Babrak Karmal and Moslem rebels who have been fighting Marxist governments for the last 18 months.
Chatti envisions a national front that would form a transitional government and negotiate the withdrawal of the close of 100,000 Soviet troops that have been in Afghanistan since late December.
Forming the national front would solve one of the stickiest problems that confronted the Islamic foreign ministers. This is how to negotiate a Soviet troop withdrawal without dealing with the Babrak government, which the Moslem world decided in January not to recognize.
The Soviets have waged a major diplomatic offensive to win Islamic recognition of the Babrak government, and there are fears among delegates here that that Moscow would use the Islamic conference committee to gain legitimacy for Babrak.
Ths Islamic conference committee is seen here as opening the way to recognition of the Babrak government, especially since there is a question as to how Moscow will react to the Islamic conference's efforts to have the troops withdrawn.
"The rebels don't think the Soviets will respond to a peace initiative, and they have a point in that," said Saudi Prince Saud. "What's important about our resolution is it tests the will of the Soviet Union. If they want to get out of Afghanistan, the Moslem world is showing they are willing to cooperate."
Although the United States could take heart from the conference's position against the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan, there was little else that indicated a pro-American stance among the Islamic nations. The rhetoric was strongest in resolutions concerning the Middle East, where the conference attacked U.S. support of Israel.
It is this support, conference delegates said, that undermines America's ability to win friends in the "arc of crisis."
"We are worried about the future of this whole area because of the United States' attitude toward Israel," said Chatti. "In this conference, we are very embarrassed by the support of the United States for the independence of Afghanistan. When we ask member states to be firm on the independence of Afghanistan, they say, 'You have the same position of the U.S., which has a policy we don't like in the Middle East.'"
Chatti continued, "I was forced to say many times, 'I don't have to stop eating bread just because the Americans eat it too.'"