Nonaligned meeting: diplomacy papering over the cracks of disunity

Foreign ministers of nonaligned countries gather in New Delhi this week to hash out world issues under the banner of a movement that has grown to embrace more than half the nations on earth.

But with two nonaligned members at war, two occupied by foreign troops, and others divided ideologically and regionally, smoke is already curling from under the faade of unity that host India and most member states hope to present to the rest of the world.

Sharp divisions on issues such as the Iran- Iraq war, the Soviets in Afghanistan, Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, and the superpower military buildup in the Indian Ocean have already marked preliminary meetings of lower-level officials at the Vigyan Bhavan, India's international conference center.

Alphabetical seating order has been one of the first casualties, as foreign ministers or other high-level representatives of the 95 members of the nonaligned movement will find on arrival at the assembly hall through flag- and flower-bedecked streets. Iran and Iraq, two warring nonaligned sister states, have been carefully separated far across the hall from each other.

Pakistan has already challenged India's gently worded draft declaration, which expresses polite hopes for a political settlement in nonaligned Afghanistan but omits any mention of Soviet troop withdrawal.

Afghanistan has pronounced its willingness to talk to neighboring Iran and Pakistan about a political settlement, but Iranian delegates have flatly refused to talk to a Soviet- supported "puppet" regime in Kabul. What is more, they said, they would move to expel from the nonaligned ranks not only Iraq but also Egypt because of its signing of the Camp David agreement with Israel.

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members, who are leading a move to condemn the Vietnamese troop domination of Cambodia, have been denounced by nonaligned member Vietnam as tools of "imperialists" seeking to divide the nonaligned movement. A draft declaration deploring superpower intervention in the Indian Ocean generated an entire day of debate on an alleged pro-Soviet tilt in language which singles out the US installation at Diego Garcia without companion mention of Soviet military facilities in the Indian Ocean region.

Such divisions are no surprise in a movement grown from 25 at its first summit meeting in Belgrade 20 years ago to 95 -- including the Palestine Liberation Organization and the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) -- in the 1980s.

The movement runs the gamut of ideologies, from conservative old-line monarchies to fire-breathing radicals. Its economic predelictions range from out-and-out capitalist to committed communist. Like the United Nations, where the nonaligned movement remains a powerful voting bloc, its membership shows a vast population range: from the world's second most populous nation, India, to island specks in the world's oceans.

Unlike the United Nations, however, the group prefers to make decisions by consensus rather than by voting. This quest for unity yields discreetly worded declarations that generally avoid the naming of names and pointing of fingers -- except at two accepted longtime arch-villains, South Africa and Israel.

Conference spokesman J. N. Dixit, who speaks for Indira Gandhi's government, exemplified the emphasis on consensus building as he ducked press questions on the Indian Ocean dispute. "The question of winning and losing does not arise in family," Mr. Dixit said.

Another example is the deliberate omission of the Iran-Iraq war in the original draft prepared for the foreign ministers' deliberations. A parenthetical note explained that the "unfortunate conflict" had been left out in the hope it would be settled by the time of the nonaligned meeting.

The conflict has since been added to the working document. Taking no sides, the draft urges the two warring nonaligned nations "to seek all possible avenues for the commencement of a peace process."

But the move for consensus does not rule out closed-door discussion of the touchy issues, and observers expect plenty of candid debates on world, regional, and bilateral disputes behind the scenes before the foreign ministers wind up their public talks Feb. 12.

United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, who arrives Feb. 10, is expected to do major probing of the concerned countries' willingness to negotiate the Iran-Iraq conflict and the Afghanistan stalemate.

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