Talk of the need for guns is all very well, celebrated violinist Isaac Stern told Friends of The America-Israel Culture Foundation yesterday, but . . .

"Guns to defend what?"

Moments earlier, the 200 guests of Israel's Ambassador Simcha Dinitz had heard remarkbale 18-year-old Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz and his Russian-born accompanist, Alexander piskunov, play part of a Prokofiev sonata, ingeniously difficult, spare as a chess problem and very definitely Prokofiev, who understood the violin as few men have.

It is this cultural tradition that the foundation helps carry on, Stern said. Stern himself "found" Mintz at the age of 9 in Israel. The red-haired youth has just completed his active army service and is studying in this country.

Yesterday's reception inaugurating the Washington's chapter of the cultural foundation demonstrated the city's new vitality, Stern said, for "Washington would be a cultural capital if if weren't for New York."

Stern's wife, Vera, who is first vice president of the 25-year-old foundation celebrating the cultural ties between the two nations, is co-chair of the new Washington chapter.

"This is very much a person-to-person organization," the famed violinist remarked. And perhaps, he indicated, the cultural enthusiasm of Israel - where the phiharmonic has a subscription audience of 40,000 - will strike a spark in America.