Standoff on arms, human rights

The verbal exchange between Washington and Moscow has sharply increased in tone and decibel level in recent days. The two superpowers accuse each other of lying about military intent, of misrepresenting positions on arms control, of seeking world domination, and of generally undermining the quest for world stability and peace.

At the one international forum where Soviet military and human-rights activities are closely watched and discussed, East-West relations remain at a relatively low point as well. This is the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which has been holding a series of meetings on the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. That accord, among other things, set up procedures for monitoring human-rights violations.

The most recent meeting in Madrid recessed last Friday, and in an interview on his flight back to the United States, US delegate Max Kampelman said he had ''no grounds for being optimistic'' that a successful conclusion could be reached in which new initiatives on human rights and military confidence-building measures will be gained.

There had been some thought that the Soviet negotiating position there would change with the new government headed by Yuri Andropov, especially since Mr. Andropov's son joined the Soviet team in Madrid.

''But the negotiating stance of the Soviets has not altered since Andropov,'' Ambassador Kampelman says. ''In the Soviet Union itself, since Andropov came in, there's been an increase of repression, an increase in arrests. As recently as last week, they're now interfering with television tapes being flown out of the country, and requiring censorship.''

While publicly less well known than arms control talks in Geneva and at other US-Soviet meeting grounds, the CSCE meetings, which began in 1980, have been the one place where the United States - with its allies in close if not always harmonious attendance - could keep what it sees as Soviet human-rights violations in public view.

Recently, the allied position has consolidated, just as it did last week in Portugal on the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. Members of NATO have agreed that any conclusion of the Helsinki process must provide for an improved Final Act which requires more precise language on such things as religious freedom, trade unions, and radio jamming, and better treatment of the people in Eastern bloc countries who monitor compliance with the 1975 accord.

It is also significant that the allies are now unified in their insistence that any new confidence-building measures (such as notifying the other side of military exercises) have strict verification. This comes following Soviet activities in Poland, which the allies see as violating the letter and spirit of Helsinki. For the same reason, the US can now with full allied support say that any US-Soviet agreement on intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe must be strictly verified.

At the moment, the Soviet Union would like to conclude the current round of meetings, scheduled to resume in Madrid April 19, and move on to a conference on security measures scheduled to begin in Stockholm Nov. 15 and dealing principally with surprise military attack. So, too, would the so-called neutral nonaligned countries (led by Switzerland and Austria), which have drafted proposals to amend the Helsinki Final Act.

Noting that these proposals were made before martial law in Poland, the Western allies offered amendments providing for stricter human-rights requirements.

Kampelman finds it significant that these amendments were made by European allies and not by the US itself, and that they were formally introduced by Denmark, perceived by the US as one of the ''softer'' countries in the alliance.

Some of these were incorporated into the neutral nonaligned offering. Kampelman, however, finds the results ''constructive but disappointing.

''The timidity of the neutral paper disappointed me immensely,'' he said.

As with the scheduled deployment by NATO of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe beginning this December, European public and political opinion regarding the Madrid meetings could affect allied unity.

Some representatives are becoming increasingly impatient with a review process that was supposed to last six months but now has stretched into its third year.

The US, for its part, does not want to be seen as obstructionist at Madrid. Yet it does not want to sign a document that does little more than restate the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act without including clear advances on human rights.

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