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Politics crowds in on population talks.

By David K. WillisStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 13, 1984



Mexico City

Wait a minute - wasn't this supposed to be a world conference on population? As delegations from 148 countries prepared to return home, delegates and reporters found themselves plunged into superpower rivalry, the Middle East, and the United States election campaign.

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The first two issues were sharpened and magnified by the third.

* The United States wanted Recommendation 5 of the final document, calling for less arms spending and more money for economic growth, deleted as not directly connected to population. The Soviet Union insisted it be retained.

After days of argument, a compromise was reached late Friday. The US succeeded in having the recommendation removed from the body of the final document. But to please the USSR the recommendation was not dropped but retained in a ''limbo'' position between the document preamble and the main text.

* The US and Israel wanted Recommendation 34 deleted because it criticized occupation of territory by another (unnamed) country. Five Arab states tried to have ''Israeli occupation of Palestinian Arab land'' added. Israel raised the issue in Washington.

On the eve of the GOP convention in Dallas, and wanting to avoid upsetting Jewish voters, the White House remained firm. The Arabs withdrew their amendment , but at time of writing, no solution had been reached. A climactic vote was set for late Sunday afternoon to clear the way for the conference to end on schedule Monday or perhaps Tuesday.

The Middle East issue dominated the entire session on Sunday amid UN and delegates' concern that the US might go as far as walking out if it lost the vote.

The original language of the recommendation drew no US or Israeli objection when it appeared at a preparatory conference earlier this year. It was only later that Washington and Tel Aviv began to express concern. Reprimands have been issued inside the State Department.

* US presidential politics was an issue within many delegations. The third world saw it as at least partly responsible for a change in US family-planning policies and for the US emphasis here on free-enterprise incentives as the best way to promote economic growth.

Some UN officials, with hindsight, thought it unfortunate that the second world population conference should have been held in the same month as the GOP political convention in Dallas.

The date was fixed because the first world conference was held in Bucharest in August 1974. A better date might have been in January before the primary election season. Anything later than August would have conflicted with the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

Nonetheless, beneath the tumult, progress was reported on the population front as well.

The White House, under sharp pre-convention pressure from pro-family-planning members of House and Senate, finally decided Friday to release $19 million in contributions to the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). The money was handed over here Saturday after being impounded by the Reagan administration for two months while US aid policies were being tightened.