Its eyes on Washington and the possibility of a major U.S.-Soviet disarmament agreement, the General Assembly of the United Nations opened its 42nd session Tuesday with an almost total lack of fanfare.
East German Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Florin, who was elected president of the session, told delegates from 159 nations in his inaugural statement:
"To reduce the nuclear threat to mankind is no longer a utopian dream. There is now a chance of starting on nuclear disarmament through an agreement on the elimination of the U.S. and Soviet medium-range missiles. Here we can see what can be achieved when the nuclear powers and the five permanent members of the Security Council, notably the Soviet Union and the United States, are acting in pursuance of their special responsibility."
Delegates followed closely the news from Tuesday's meeting in Washington between President Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze. Reagan's speech to the assembly next Monday is probably the most eagerly awaited of his appearances here. Shevardnadze is scheduled to speak next Wednesday, having yielded the traditional Soviet second-day appearance to Iran's President Ali Khamenei.
The opening session was also overshadowed by the Iran-Iraq War, with the empty chair of Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar serving as a vivid reminder that the issue will be a major topic of debate.
Perez de Cuellar is scheduled to return tonight from visiting Tehran and Baghdad, where he has apparently failed to bring the two belligerents any closer to agreeing to the Security Council's July 20 resolution calling for a cease-fire. The 15-nation council scheduled consultations today to consider economic sanctions to enforce peace.
There was less superpower harmony on the gulf war issue than on disarmament, as U.S. diplomats began lobbying for an arms embargo against Iran, which has refused to accept the cease-fire resolution. The Soviet Union, however, has resisted punitive action, urging patience in the hope of eventual Iranian cooperation.
For his part, Florin, speaking fluent Russian acquired during years of exile in the Soviet Union, only alluded to the Iran-Iraq conflict, a marked contrast to his extensive comments on nuclear disarmament.
Urging the assembly in its 12-week session to "promote all efforts toward settling international conflicts by way of negotiation and dialogue," Florin said "realistic proposals" exist and should be pursued toward peace in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, southern Africa and Central America.