The Beatles apparently are close to reuniting for the first time in a decade to give what would be the most long-awaited concert of rock 'n' roll history.
The United Nations, better known for attempts to restore peace between warring states than alienated musicians, has been seeking the Beatles' help to raise money for the Vietnamese boat people.
Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr have agreed to play a benefit concert, probably in New York, and John Lennon is considering the proposal, a U.N. official said yesterday.
"There's nothing solid yet," a spokesman for Harrison said yesterday, "but the U.N. certainly isn't fabricating the story."
McCartney's New York office would neither confirm nor deny the report. Dirk Summers, a Los Angeles producer who is handling negotiations for the United Nations, will make a "major" announcement today, an assistant said.
U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim spoke personally with Harrison about a Beatles reunion concert, a U.N. spokesman said.
Waldheim enthusiastically supports the idea of a Beatles benefit to help meet the U.N. High Commission on Refugees' $10 million monthly cost of aiding Indochinese refugees.
The Beatles' last concert tour took them to New York's Shea Stadium in 1966. The group broke up in 1970 after recording its last album, Abbey Road.
Three weeks ago, in a full-page ad in the New York Times, former Beatles promoter Sid Bernstein, who put on the Shea Stadium concert, suggested that the group could raise a half billion dollars for the boat people by doing three televised concerts.
"The music you created in the '60s is still heard in every corner of the world in the '70s," Bernstein wrote in his "appeal to John, Paul, George and Ring."
"The joy that you gave to people everywhere . . . gives you a unique place in history. It also gives you an importance and a voice to make a difference in the lives of many human beings who need our compassion and immediate help."
Bernstein made a similar appeal three years ago on behalf of the children of Biafra, to which the Beatles did not respond.
"This one was just a-shot in the dark," Bernstein said yesterday, "but I can't believe the response it's generated. I'm convinced it's going to happen, although I probably won't be doing it."
Fans and promoters have been urging a Beatles reunion virtually since the day the phenomenally popular group broke up in 1970.
The Beatles became increasingly less cohesive after their album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Bank," which dazzled critics in 1967. Even by 1968 Beatles records had become collections of songs done almost singlehandedly by separate members of the band.
Harrison complained that he felt like a guitarist hired to play McCartney's songs; Lennon and McCartney bickered over personal philosophy and in 1970 McCartney announced that he was leaving the group.
Lennon has been a virtual recluse for the past five years, living in New York's famous Dakota apartment house and considering purchasing farm properties in Virginia and New England. Recently he published an open letter to his fans in the New York Times telling them to look "to the clouds" and not to him for answers -- particularly answers about a Beatles reunion.
The other three Beatles have continued to make records separately and last spring played together for the first time at a private party celebrating marriage of British rock guitarist Eric Clapton.
In their early days, Lennon and McCartney wrote almost all the Beatles music jointly.
The United Nations thought of a Beatles concert after the success of a benefit by the Bee Gees last year for UNICEF'S Year of the Child, a spokesman said.
The Bee Gees' album has earned $3 million in royalties for the United Nations and $600,000 has been earned from sales of a television tape of the concert to 60 nations, the spokesman said.
The tragedy of the Indochinese refugees sparked new pledges of money and offers of resettlement from many nations last summer at an international conference called by Waldheim.
However, international resources are still not adequate to cope with the problem. There are about 350,000 Indochinese refugees in camps in Southeast Asia awaiting resettlement in those countries willing to accept refugees. About half of these are boat people and the rest are Laotians and Cambodians who fled overland.
The Beatles have been kept alive in the hearts of their fans in many ways. One of the more peculiar ones was a running gag on the television show "Saturday Night Live" in which producer Lorne Michaels held a cashier's check for $3,000 and announced his standing offer to the Beatles to reunite on his show.
"That was a scale pay for any host, and we told them that they could cut it up any way the wanted," Michaels said yesterday.
"I guess the U.N. is going to get them," Michaels said. "I guess the boat people are offering more than we could."