President Reagan, defending his trip to West Germany next month at last night's state dinner for Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid, reiterated he will take "some of the blame" for the controversy over his plans to visit a German military cemetery.
But Reagan contended that many of the German soldiers buried at the Bitburg ceremony were 17- and 18-year-olds. "I see nothing wrong in recognizing they, too, were victims of Nazism."
Contrary to speculation that he might drop from his itinerary his visit to Bitburg, where more than 30 Nazi SS troops are buried, Reagan said he will make no such change.
Reagan partly blamed the current furor on his choice of words at his March 21 news conference. "I'll take some of the blame for my answer at the press conference," he said. "There was some confusion."
At the March news conference, Reagan said he would pass up a visit to a Nazi death camp to avoid reviving bitter memories of the past. Germans, he said, have "a guilt feeling that's been imposed upon them, and I just think it's unnecessary. I think they should be recognized for the democracy that they've created . . ."
Although Mideast problems and his trip to Germany were the evening's refrains, it was a warm welcome for Bendjedid, the first Algerian president to visit the United States. In the Blue Room, over after-dinner coffee, Bendjedid said he was "very happy" with the progress of his talks with Reagan.
He said through an interpreter, "We heard about it," referring to the controversy over Reagan's trip, but he volunteered no opinion beyond a polite smile.
Among the guests were several from Capitol Hill. Sens. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) and Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) said they were not among the 53 senators who sent a letter to Reagan yesterday protesting as inappropriate his scheduled visit to the West German military cemetary.
Rep. Marjorie Holt (R-Md.) called the president's plans to lay a wreath at the cemetery "typical.
"Everyplace we go, we visit a national cemetery," she said. "We bring people to Arlington Cemetery to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and I think that's just protocol. And I can't see there's any difference."
Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) was guarded, saying, "I think he has to make that decision in the whole context of his invitation."
Other guests included "Bloom County" cartoonist Berke Breathed, architect John Burgee, designer Perry Ellis, author John Irving, former football pro Joe Namath, tennis pro Pam Shriver, and actresses Cheryl Ladd and Jennifer O'Neill.
Secretary of State George Shultz moved quickly to snag a dance with Ladd.
"Uh oh," she whispered nervously as he approached.
Flying several inches above the dance floor was Barbara Bush. Former George Bush adviser Thaddeus Garrett whirled and twirled her again and again. She emerged alive, but rather breathless.
"She's my Aunt Barbara," Garrett said. "She's the only one who'll let me do that."
They had never actually danced together before, said Garrett, who now runs a consulting firm in town. "What I was trying to do was to bridge the generation gap here," he said, "by bringing in some new steps. She said, 'What are we doing?' I said, 'Just hold on!' "
Also on hand was Eugene McCarthy, the former Democratic presidential candidate, who said he hadn't been to dinner at the White House since Lyndon B. Johnson invited him.
"I thought I'd come back and check the place out again," McCarthy laughed. Actually, McCarthy said he'd been back in the White House during the Carter administration -- but "only as a poet. He didn't invite me as a politician. He didn't even let me recite. I had to come listen to other poets, and that's pretty hard."
The president found it pretty hard, too, to keep off the stage in the East Room, where Fernando Bujones of American Ballet Theatre was performing with Marianna Tcherkassky. During a pause in one of the pas de deux they performed, Reagan went on stage. Bujones laughingly told him they hadn't finished yet and the president returned to his seat.
Later, when the performance ended, the president went back up on stage. "The truth was," he said with a grin, "I was trying to get into the act."
He wasn't the only one. While other guests were heading for the East Room after their dinner of rack of veal and peach mousse, Namath was standing in front of the U.S. Marine Orchestra, waving his hands in gestures that may have been applause but also could have been conducting.
Later, while guests danced, Namath raced across the floor on his way out, only stopping to give Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet a quick kiss. Violet laughed and gave him a pat on the arm as he vanished into the dancing crowd.
"We just met," said the former nun, who was wearing an austere, knee-length gray velvet suit. "Joe Namath. We were at the same table. What I love is how down to earth people are here."
Violet reopened the murder case against millionaire Claus von Bu low, whose first conviction for murder was overturned by a higher court.
"To me, it's just another case," she said. "I've been turning down interviews internationally and nationally because I don't want to give it too much attention. When you do overvalue one particular case, you devalue all the victims of crime who have been hurt."
Earlier, in his formal toast to Bendjedid, Reagan said, "We have not always seen political issues in the same light. But total agreement is not the basis of friendship. Instead, it's based on respect and forthrightness, and if this be the case, Algerians and Americans ought to be friends."
The president then went on to say, "We continue to believe that Middle East peace must emerge from direct negotiations between the parties" and that any settlement "must recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians and provide security for all in the region, including Israel."
Bendjedid, in return, said, "In the Middle East, it is Algeria's conviction that the Palestinian problem is at the heart of the crisis in that region. Therefore, Mr. President, a recognition of the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people is the only path to a just and durable peace in that region."
Later, Bendjedid said of U.S. policy on the Palestinians, "We wish things would be more practical."
Everyone seemed to know this was the first time an Algerian head of state had visited the United States. Some of the guests had even done a little homework, although in the excitement of the moment, at least one of them fumbled.
Said Namath, the retired quarterback: "This is our president's first time here and I think we should all get together. It's just long overdue."
Namath obligingly posed for photographers by placing his hand on the stomach of his pregnant wife, Deborah Lynn.
Ellis and his assistant Patricia Pastor said they had prepared a bit for their big night.
"We thought of all the Algerian friends we have and what their lives are like," said Ellis. "We didn't know if we could mention their names tonight."
Ellis said he wished he could say yes, Nancy Reagan was one of his customers, but had to answer no. "We have done some clothes for Doria," he said. "We're friends of hers and Ron's."
Nancy Reagan wore a red dress covered in black polka dots of varied sizes. Halima Bendjedid was in a silver-beaded blue dress that was gathered around her ankles. The presidents wore basic black.
Carolyn Deaver, wife of deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, said she had heard nothing from her husband, who left Monday night to check out concentration camp sites in Germany for Reagan's visit.
Deaver will leave the White House next month to set up his own public relations firm.
"This is my last dinner," said Carolyn Deaver. "I turn into a pumpkin tomorrow." Guests at last night's state dinner:
President and Halima Bendjedid
Taleb Ibrahimi, minister of foreign affairs, and Mrs. Ibrahimi
Kasdi Merba, minister of agriculture and fisheries
Belkacem Nabi, minister of energy, chemical and petrochemical industries
Abdelaziz Khellef, minister of commerce
Kamel Abderrahim, deputy chief of staff
Amb. Mohamed and Mrs. Sahnoun,
Abdelkader Benkaci, chief, department of international affairs and cooperation
Lt. Col. M'hamed Bencherchali, director, Ministry of National Defense
Mohamed Ghoualmi, director of western European and North American affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Commandant Abdelkader Bendahmane, aide-de-camp to the president
Theoni Aldredge, Broadway costume designer, and Thomas Aldredge
Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.)
Berke Breathed, "Bloom County" cartoonist, and Sylvia Vela
Amb. William E. Brock III, U.S. trade representative, and Muffet Brock
Irving Brown, director of international affairs, AFL-CIO
Fernando Bujones, ballet dancer, and Marcia Bujones
Dean Burch and Patricia Burch
John Burgee, architect, and Gwendolyn Burgee
Vice President Bush and Barbara Bush
Albert V. Casey, chairman, American Airlines, and Mrs. Casey
Zeida Cecilia-Mendez, Danzart, Inc.
Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) and Rhea Chiles
Herbert F. Collins, chairman, Greater Boston Development Inc., and Sheila Collins
William H. Deaver and Billye Deaver
James Demetrion, director, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and Barbara Demetrion
Fausto Diaz-Oliver, executive vice president, American International Container Inc., and Remedios Diaz-Oliver
Perry E. Ellis, fashion designer, and Patricia Pastor
Brian Erickson, president, American Furniture Manufacturers Association, and Carol Erickson
Joseph P. Flannery, chief executive officer, Uniroyal Inc., and Margaret Flannery
Thaddeus Garrett, Garrett and Co., and Tommie Garrett
Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) and Sally Gorton
Katherine Graham, chairman, The Washington Post Company
Alan Green, chairman, Federal Maritime Commission, and Joan Green
Cecil R. Haden and Helen Smith
David Hoffman, White House correspondent, The Washington Post, and Carol Hoffman
Rep. Marjorie W. Holt (R-Md.) and Duncan M. Holt
Raymond Hutchison, attorney, and Kay Hutchison
Thomas J. Hutchison, president, Murdock Development Co., and Carolyn Hutchison
John Irving, author, and Rusty Guinzburg
L. Craig Johnstone, deputy assistant secretary of state and U.S. ambassador-designate to Algeria, and Janet Buechel
Ida Julian, president, Cybis
Walter and Arlene Lange
Frank Light, president, Sun-Diamond Growers of California, and Ann Light
Edward Lujan, president, Manuel Lujan Agencies Inc., and Virginia Lujan
Anthony Mazzola, Harper's Bazaar, and Michele Mazzola
Eugene J. McCarthy
Robert C. McFarlane, assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Jonda McFarlane
Hanne Merriman, president, Garfinckel's, and Richard Merriman
Joe Namath, actor and former football pro, and Deborah Lynn Mays Namath
Amb. Michael H. Newlin, U.S. ambassador to Algeria, and Melina Newlin
Dr. David I. Olch and Susan Olch
Jennifer O'Neill, actress, and Patrick Shields
Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.)
Allen E. Paulson, chairman, Gulfstream American Corp.
Arnold L. Raphel, deputy assistant secretary of state, and Nancy Ely
Donald T. Regan, White House chief of staff, and Ann Regan
Linda Johnson Rice, vice chairman, Johnson Publishing Co., and S. Andre Rice
Selwa Roosevelt, chief of protocol, and Archibald B. Roosevelt Jr.
Cheryl Ladd Russell, actress, and Brian Russell
Pam Shriver, tennis pro
George Shultz, secretary of state, and Helena Shultz
Richard M. Smith, editor in chief, Newsweek, and Dr. Soon Young Yoon
W. Scott Smith Jr., chairman, National Association of Wholesale Distributors, and Kathleen Smith
Richard D. Smyser, president, American Society of Newspaper Editors and editor, The Oak Ridger, and Mary Smyser
Marianna Tcherkassky, ballerina, and Terry Orr, American Ballet Theatre ballet master
Arlene Violet, attorney general of Rhode Island
Rep. G. William Whitehurst (R-Va.) and Janie Whitehurst
Thomas L. Williams Jr. and Marguerite Williams
Thomas S. Winter, publisher, Human Events, and Dawne Winter