Rome — To many of the 114 member countries meeting here at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United States has begun to look like a maverick bargaining in bad faith, undercutting its partners, and generally bogging down a good plan.
IFAD has been one of the most internationally popular contracts in global cooperation to combat hunger in the poorest countries.
Four years ago it attracted into a single fund the donations of three power blocs that hardly ever seem to agree about money matters - the industrialized West, the developing countries, and the oil-exporting countries.
The West's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was delighted to see OPEC petrodollars finally brought into the development process. The billion dollar fund - which gets over 40 percent of its money from OPEC - has been getting loans to impoverished village farmers through ingenious schemes like bankers on motorbikes in Pakistan, peasant organizations that take responsibility for paying back loans in Nepal, and family-farmer management of land once owned by a huge state farm in Egypt.
But for all its outward support, the American delegation has been demanding that IFAD now cut its staff and get OPEC to increase its share of the financial burden - demands that strained the patience of its IFAD partners.
Some analysts here see the demands as one more manifestation of a budget-cutting American administration that distrusts international organizations and is reluctant to go along with international agreements negotiated by past administrations, such as the Law of the Sea.
But at least on the surface, the administration has said it likes the concept , pointing to Congress as the sticking point.
Last year, despite budget-cutting pressures, the administration budgeted $180 million for IFAD's 1981-1983 ''season.'' Congress approved. But when it came time last month to sign the check for 1982, the Senate Appropriations Committee refused.
A powerful minority on the committee wanted IFAD to cut its staff and get OPEC to pay a larger share - all in the name of being true to the agreement that launched IFAD back in 1977. The US delegation has thus been arguing that it needs such concessions as bargaining chips to take back home.
But to many of the IFAD ''partners'' meeting here, it all looks as if the US is raising the ante long after the cards have already been played. It's not the first time, they say, that US promises have gotten hedged by the Congress.
''This is bargaining in bad faith,'' says Canadian delegate Robert Sallery. ''Either the United States should get fully into this game, or it should get out and let us get on with a good thing.''
Most delegations have not been overly disturbed by the fact that IFAD's staff has almost doubled to 74 professionals since 1977. Each increase, they note, has been approved by IFAD's members, including the US.
Various OECD representatives also told the Monitor they feel that OPEC is carrying a reasonable share of IFAD's costs.
''At a time when the US has reduced its pledge for IFAD's replenishment from to $450 million,'' said one OECD delegate who asked not to be identified. ''That should be applauded.''
The Japanese (whose economy is heavily dependent on OPEC oil) fear that US demands could jeopardize IFAD's role in promoting cooperation between OPEC and OECD.
''Without positive American participation,'' says Japanese delegate Nobuo Miyamoto, ''that role could be lost and I doubt that we could keep IFAD alive.''
Meanwhile, US delegation head John Bolton indicated to the conference that he still plans to seek full payment of America's $180 million pledge. Technically Congress could still get part of the money this year if it wants