Neither of them ever mentioned the word "summit," but in the world of diplomacy it's the nuances that count anyway.

Said Secretary of State George Shultz at the reception he hosted for foreign chiefs of mission Saturday night: "With the Soviet Union, the president feels that our two countries face a moment of opportunity. The president has a fresh mandate from the American people. The arms control dialogue has resumed. Now the Soviet Union has a new leader in place."

Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, in his role as dean of the diplomatic corps, responded: "What we want most is agreement on an immediate termination of the arms race. [Soviet leadership] would like to make the Geneva negotiation a complete success. Both our sides should know each other better."

Not exactly the stuff tea leaves are made of but tantalizing enough to some in the black-tie crowd. In fact, some were saying the remarks really mean that the United States and the Soviet Union are ready for an early summit.

Afterwards, Dobrynin was surrounded by reporters as well as fellow diplomats.

"I said you and Shultz used a routine diplomatic occasion to stress a desire for deeper negotiations," UPI's State Department correspondent Jim Anderson told Dobrynin of the story he filed a few minutes earlier.

"I heard you both confirm a summit," said State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb.

Dobrynin just stood there, the glow of crystal chandeliers in the State Department's newly refurbished eighth-floor diplomatic rooms casting no light whatsoever on what he was thinking.

Chided Kalb, longtime State Department correspondent for NBC and CBS: "Mr. Ambassador, there are test pilots in aviation. In journalism, there are test questions."

The party featured a lavish buffet supper followed by dancing to the Army Blues Combo and signaled the official opening of the $3.55 million Benjamin Franklin Dining Room. Among Shultz's special guests was former secretary of state Edmund S. Muskie.

"When I said we wanted to take up the rug in the Thomas Jefferson Room so the diplomats could dance, [Curator Clement Conger] looked shocked," said Chief of Protocol Selwa Roosevelt.

Dancing proved to be a popular innovation with many of the diplomats. Helena Shultz, reappearing on Washington's social circuit after a lengthy absence because of back surgery, preferred sitting it out. Shultz, on the other hand, lived up to his reputation as a smooth dancer when he whisked protocol officer Mary Maserini around the floor.

Earlier, Shultz and Dobrynin disappeared for a few minutes of private conversation behind closed doors. In his welcoming remarks, Shultz shortened his prepared remarks by several pages, eliminating references to East Asia, NATO and South Africa.

Before Shultz spoke and while other guests were having cocktails, Dobrynin went off to a table by himself to write his remarks.

"At the embassy everybody is on vacation," Dobrynin joked later, "so my granddaughter wrote it."

On behalf of the diplomatic corps, Dobrynin gave Shultz a record album of 25 national anthems.

"I'll be hearing all this mood music as I go around the world," Shultz said. "I'll have to get a little Victrola for the Air Force jet."

Asked later if Dobrynin was ready for all the protests from the other 125 countries whose anthems were not on the recording, Dobrynin shook his head and laughed. He said he had invited everybody to deliver his country's anthem to Shultz.

"Shultz smiled but he was horrified," Dobrynin said.