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India swings nonaligned to the middle for meeting

The nonaligned group of nations, which is to meet in New Delhi March 7, is adopting a more moderate stance as India prepares to take over its chairmanship from Cuba.

Ninety-seven heads of state are expected to convene for the group's seventh summit, which is expected to unify the movement and bring it closer to being truly nonaligned. Since its first summit in Belgrade in 1959, the nonaligned movement has come a long way.

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''During the '60s and early '70s, we confronted the Western powers, which were trying to maintain their colonial or near-colonial realm under control. These struggles tainted our political culture and lent a certain shrillness to our documents. More recently we began to run up against Soviet imperialism in Afghanistan and in Cambodia, as well. As a result, our anti-Western stridency has notably subsided,'' says one nonaligned diplomat.

Movement leaders claim it can no longer be manipulated by radical countries. The group basically comprises three wings: roughly 20 radicals led by Cuba, 20 conservatives led by Singapore, and 50 to 60 mainstream countries, led by India, Yugoslavia, and Algeria.

In preparation for the summit, India has circulated a 35-page draft that by nonaligned standards is very low-key. It dwells mainly on global issues, such as disarmament and the economy, rather than on specific regional irritants such as Afghanistan or the Western Sahara.

''Obviously India has made a serious assessment of the world situation and concluded that in order to remain efficient and credible, the movement must mute its rhetoric and concentrate on finding solutions to the most pressing problems, '' says one leading nonaligned ambassador.

The seventh summit is expected to appeal to industrial nations for new talks between developing and developed nations, known as the North-South dialogue. And the conference is also expected to call on the nuclear powers to seriously negotiate a strategic weapons agreement.

These appeals could contain concrete proposals. ''As far as the North-South dialogue is concerned we do not seek a massive transfer of resources from the North to the South,'' says one official. ''We want rather to work out agreements on problems of urgent mutual concern,'' such as debt burdens, trade protectionism, and commodity prices.

Unlike previous summit documents, India's draft contains only one reference to the United States and that regards it policies toward Nicaragua. The document calls for withdrawal of ''foreign troops'' from Afghanistan, but fails to cite the Soviet Union by name.

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For the first time it mentions ''the rights of all the nations in the Middle East to live within secure and recognized borders,'' (thus implicitly including Israel). US diplomats say the document indicates restraint and evenhandedness, but that the nonaligned stance is still viewed by many as biased. East bloc diplomats regret ''a loss of militancy'' in the movement.

Intensive debates behind the scenes are expected in New Delhi and ''in some instances the Indian language may be expected to be sharpened,'' says one analyst. ''But with the conservatives being now as outspoken as the radicals, the mainstreamers will find it easy to mediate between the extremist factions and to stay a moderate course,'' he adds.

More and more the nonaligned have come to realize that if their movement is to carry weight, it must use more cautious language and show more realism than heretofore.

''India is taking over the chairmanship of the movement at the right time,'' says a longtime nonaligned summit participant. ''India leadership is sophisticated and respected. Under its guidance the movement will stop gliding toward irrelevance and perhaps begin to be taken seriously in Washington and in Moscow.''

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