The State Department is contributing as much as $45,000 to support a two-day conference on the "false images" of U.S. and Soviet "moral equivalence." The session is attracting conservatives and neoconservatives and being boycotted by some liberals.
The government financial support, which its private sponsors said will cover about 40 percent of expenses, is the first such effort by a year-old State Department office of "public diplomacy."
The sponsor of the conference is the Shavano Institute for National Leadership, a Colorado-based division of Michigan's Hillsdale College, a conservative institution that has carried on a long-running court battle with the government over federal regulation.
The program for the conference, which began yesterday at the Madison Hotel, said it is being held "in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State" but did not disclose the financial sponsorship.
Irving Kristol, one of the founders of the neoconservative movement, launched an attack on the "value-free" orientation of U.S. diplomacy in yesterday's luncheon address. Kristol called for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, and for the abolition of the U.S. Information Agency, because it is always "apologizing" for U.S. policies.
Kristol, a professor at New York University, also called for the National Security Council to be renamed the American Imperial Council and for the Defense Department to be renamed the War Department to get rid of "meaningless" descriptions.
Gilbert A. Robinson, who was head of the State Department "public diplomacy" office until he returned to private public relations in mid-March, said use of public funds was justified because "there has been confusion, and the U.S. government tries to help clarify in the public mind anything that needs clarifying."
As an example of "moral equivalence" that the conference is designed to refute, Robinson cited equating the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with the U.S. invasion of Grenada and U.S. support for the antigovernment guerillas, or "contras," in Nicaragua.
W. Kenneth Thompson, acting chief of State's public diplomacy office, said the State Department was "a silent partner" in the conference, retaining a veto over those invited. "Our intention wasn't to get a center-right group," said Thompson, who noted that many from the liberal side declined to participate and "some said it was a setup."
John K. Andrews Jr., chief of staff of the Shavano Institute and conference coordinator, provided a list of those who declined to attend: journalists Carl T. Rowan, Joseph C. Harsch, Tom Wicker, Hodding Carter, James B. Reston, Anthony Lewis, Sydney H. Schanberg, John Oakes, Charlotte Saikowski, Meg Greenfield and Sam Donaldson; academics Noam Chomsky, Dimitri K. Simes, Marshall Shulman, Seweryn Bialer, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Henry Steele Commager and Stephen Cohen; and cleric William Sloane Coffin Jr.
Frank Shakespeare, former U.S. Information Agency director and presiding chairman of the conference, said there had been discussion of canceling the conference after so many declined. But it was decided that "one could hardly allow the practitioners of the moral equivalency argument to veto a conference like this."
Among those speaking at the conference are former U.N. ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, former National Security Council aide Richard E. Pipes, Education Secretary William J. Bennett, editor Norman Podhoretz of Commentary magazine, philospher Sidney Hook and author Tom Wolfe.