The Soviet Bloc forced a temporary halt to discussion of Poland at the European Security Conference meeting here today after Western foreign ministers denounced the military takeover in Warsaw and accused Moscow of having a direct role in it.
Left waiting in the wings were French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson and representatives of a number of other NATO countries who had said they wanted to speak at today's session.
Cheysson, visibly angered by the refusal of the Communist countries to let him speak, labeled the Communist tactics "a strange expression of freedom of speech" and vowed to return for the next scheduled meeting of the talks on Friday. He said his statement would be "remarkably similar" to the criticisms of the Soviet Union and Polish military government voiced today by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Belgian Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans, who spoke on behalf of the 10-nation European Community.
One of the principles of the Helsinki accords that are under review here is the guarantee of freedom of speech.
Haig, one of the few who did get to speak, added his own sharp criticism, saying: "They are trying to evade the truth . . . but they will hear the truth anyway however much they wish to hide it."
As one Canadian delegate put it: "The whole thing has been a fabulous stroke of luck for the West. We came here with Genscher and Haig still disagreeing on key points, and with others equivocal about where they stand. Now the Russians have made everybody so angry through their arbitrary tactics that they're all rallying behind Haig."
Underlying the dispute was the decision made by the 15-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization last month to have their foreign ministers speak out on Poland at today's resumption of the conference that has been assessing the current status of the 1975 Helsinki accords on security and cooperation in Europe.
The so-called Helsinki Final Act, signed by 33 European nations, plus the United States and Canada, is not a formal treaty but is regarded as especially important in Europe as a blueprint for regulating peaceful relations between East and West and guaranteeing the human rights of people in the signatory countries.
Today's meeting began normally with speeches by nine representatives, including Haig, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Jozef Wiejacz, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Ilyichov, Genscher and Tindemans.
Then Wiejacz, who was presiding under the conference's system of rotating the chairmanship of each session alphabetically, announced he was adjourning the meeting because of an earlier agreement to hold only a morning session.
That drew an immediate objection from the next scheduled speaker, Cheysson, and other Western delegates who pointed out that customary procedure in all past meetings involving the Helsinki accords has been to accommodate all who had signaled their intention to speak.
However, under the rules of the conference, all decisions are made not by majority vote but by unanimous consent of all the participants. That touched off a stalemate that saw the Communist countries refusing to consent to a continuation of today's session and the NATO members, backed by the European neutrals, arguing that the speakers should be allowed to proceed.
From a Western point of view, the delay is only temporary because those who were blocked today will still be able to speak at the next plenary session on Friday. But it was not immediately clear whether the schedules of all those foreign ministers still awaiting their turn will allow them to remain in Madrid until then.
In addition to France, other NATO members whose foreign ministers were blocked from speaking were Britain, Denmark, Turkey, Norway, Portugal and Greece. The new Greek government of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou is expected, however, to disassociate itself from much of the NATO criticism of Poland and the Soviet Union.
Also prevented from speaking by today's procedural maneuvering were two European non-allied countries generally sympathetic to the West, Ireland and Switzerland, and four Warsaw pact nations: East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Western delegates here said they could not understand what the Poles and Soviets, backed by the rest of their Warsaw Pact allies, hoped to accomplish by tying up the proceedings for such a short period.
These delegates appeared unanimous in agreeing that the move would draw more attention to the Polish situation than an uninterrupted set of speeches simply reiterating Western positions that already are well known. They also noted that the Communist action served to downplay the differences within the Western alliance over a response to events in Poland.
In his speech, and at a subsequent news conference, Haig accused the Polish authorities of violating the Helsinki accords' provisions on the right of people "to choose and develop their political, social, economic and cultural systems" and to be safe in their pursuit of basic human rights. He further charged that "through intimidation and interference, the Soviet Union has conspired with the Polish military authorities to deprive Poland of these basic rights."
Genscher told the conference that martial law in Poland "shook the foundations of international cooperation." Charging that the Soviet Union had threatened to use force against Poland, Genscher said, "We cannot accept that the threat of force can be justified even when it is employed within an alliance."
At a news conference late tonight, Wiejacz defended his curtailing of the speeches as "legally correct," rejected criticism of his country as interference in Polish internal affairs and asserted that martial law was "necessary to prevent anarchy, chaos, economic ruin and the potential threat of civil war."
He was followed by Ilyichov, who said: "We resolutely and firmly oppose the efforts of the NATO bloc, and of the United States in particular, to put on yet another political farce.