AP 31 Aug 94 15:08 EDT V0200 The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- As a third Muslim country pulled out of the U.N. population meeting opening next week, U.N. officials have launched a defense against charges that conference proposals undermine traditional family values.

They disputed claims Wednesday that the conference action plan endorsed abortion, homosexuality and promiscuity. They said critics, such as Muslim fundamentalists and the Vatican, were reading things into it for political purposes.

"Various areas of misinformation attributed to the document ... are not there," U.N. spokesman Stirling Scruggs told a news conference.

Still, criticism was not stilled. Lebanon announced it was not coming, and Pakistani officials said Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto might withdraw as head of her country's delegation.

Saudi Arabia's top Islamic scholars said the conference program "contravenes Islam and all heavenly teachings by the prophets, is against the nature of man, is immoral and is heretic." They called on Muslims to boycott the meeting.

Vatican officials have launched their own campaign against proposals related to artificial birth control and abortion, and the Holy See has been in contact with Iran and Libya to coordinate strategy on contentious issues.

In a news conference Wednesday, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro defended the Vatican's common cause with Muslim fundamentalists, saying, "It's not strange in any way if representatives of other religious might have felt a confluence with the Holy See."

Over 155 nations and 1,200 non-governmental groups are expected to send delegations to the U.N. International Conference on Population and Development.

The program they will discuss is designed to curb the world's spiraling population, increasing by 90 million people a year, and encourage economic development.

Lebanon was the third Muslim nation to announce it would not send a delegation.

Lebanese President Elias Hariri did not say why, but Hariri has close ties to Saudi Arabia, which announced this week it would not attend. Sudan also has said it will boycott.

Jordan announced Wednesday that it would attend despite calls for boycotting it from the kingdom's powerful Muslim fundamentalists and other groups.

If Prime Minister Bhutto pulls out, all three women prime ministers from Muslim nations would be absent from the conference. Tansu Ciller of Turkey and Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh already have canceled, but both countries are still sending delegations.

At Wednesday's Cairo news conference, U.N. spokesman Ayman el-Amir listed improving the lot of women, creating equality for men and women and enriching the lives of all families as among the meeting's aims.

He said these issues were being ignored as "some circles concentrated on points of the declaration that do not go hand-in-hand with their philosophy."

Scruggs tried to counter the Islamic community's criticism of the draft document point by point.

He denied, for example, that the document's comments on abortion amount to endorsement.

He said the report raises the issue of the 500,000 women who die each year of pregnancy complications, many from unsafe abortions, and urges each country to deal with the problem "based on its own beliefs and traditions and culture."

In fact, the document is peppered with brackets, flagging phrases still subject to debate, including references to abortion, sexual and reproductive health, family planning, pregnancy termination and fertility regulation.

Scruggs said complaints that adolescent sex education would encourage promiscuity also grew out of the document's raising the problem of teen-age pregnancy.

As for Muslims' reading of "the diversity of family structure" as a reference to homosexuality, Scruggs said the phrase was meant to address the trend toward more single-parent families.