An East-West clash over the issue of discussing human rights emerged here today as strong Eastern Bloc opposition developed to a Western proposal to set an agenda for the 35-nation conference to review to European security agreement set to begin here in two months.
The Czechoslovak delegation rejected a proposal by Spain for breaking the deadlock over fixing an agenda, according to Western diplomatic sources, and a U.S. delegation spokesman called the Czechoslovak stand "a disappointing statement that is not helpful."
Although Spain's proposed agenda was closely modeled on that agreed on at a previous conference held in Belgrade two years ago to review the 1975 Helsinki accord, the Czechoslovak delegation contended that it was not the basis for continued work on detente, according to Western sources.
Western officials feared that the rejection was the opening shot in a Soviet Bloc campaign to severely limit the conference's discussion on human rights an on the invasion of Afghanistan.
The Spanish proposal came after a week of meetings at the preparatory phase of the Madrid conference during which the Eastern Bloc reportedly has consistently ducked substantive issues.
Taking the Belgrade procedure as its guide, Spain proposed a broad agenda for the main conference that is due to open here Nov. 11 in an obvious attempt to force the delegations to open meaningful discussions. U.S. delegations spokesman Jerry Verner welcomed the proposal as a "Positive contribution," a view that was expressed by other NATO member delegations and most of the nonaligned and neutral states.
According to Western sources the main Eastern objection expressed to the proposed agenda at the closed sessions was the absence of any time limits for discussion on the implementation of human rights provisions of the Helsinki accords.
A U.S. diplomat said that in a series of bilateral meetings with the Soviets since the sessions opened last Tuesday the American delegation had been unable to learn what the real problems and objections were.
"We know what some of the problems are," he said. "The Soviets have been talking about order and about how disorderly [the Belgrade conference] was."
After the Eastern Bloc endured sharp and sustained criticism from the United States over the human rights issue at the Belgrade talks, little was agreed to other than to meet again in Madrid.
The United States, NATO and Spain had agreed that Belgrade agenda framework, known as the Belgrade "Yellow Book," would be a satisfactory one for the current meeting.
According to the U.S. spokesman, "The Yellow Book was a compromise and how do you improve on a compromise?"
Until the Czechoslovak rejection the prevailing view here was that there was agreement for using the Yellow Book that extended even to the Soviet Bloc.
The Czechoslovak rejection of the porposed agenda did not specify what the objections were and conference sources said that Hungary would issue a counterproposal tomorrow on behalf of the Soviet Bloc.
Western sources believe that they will face a strong Soviet push to clearly limit the conference, through the agenda being drawn up now, to two distinct phases.
The first phase, which would have a final date, would review implemention of the Helsinki accords and therefore discuss human rights violations. The conference would then discuss new proposals, notably on security and disarmament.