An erudite weekly public affairs program that examines the nation's stake in a single international issue, "American Interests" marks its 10th anniversary Saturday.

At the time that it airs on WETA -- 2 p.m. Saturdays -- it is "the one show on the air for people who don't move their lips when they read," said executive producer Neal Freeman.

But even those people may have trouble determining the nation's stance in today's maelstrom of current events.

"This analytical chaos that may be a problem for the policy establishment," said Freeman, "but it's great for us."

The international situation has given the program a boost, said Freeman, who created the series a decade ago.

"American Interests" appears on 192 PBS stations, NHK in Japan (where stereo audio gives the show's viewers both English and Japanese), USIA WorldNet and the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Television Network.

"The surge has been in the last couple of years, with so many of the big stories going international and new relations among the superpowers. Many times we just barely make the Saturday {newspaper TV} listings, and we sometimes do the show as late as Friday morning."

One of "American Interests'" biggest coups came last May when Richard Nixon agreed to what Freeman called "a video memoir." The special, called "Richard Nixon Reflects," coincided with the publication of Nixon's autobiography and the opening of the Richard Nixon Library.

"We're going to be doing more primetime specials," said Freeman, "investigative pieces, tracking an international story.

"We travel as much as the budget allows. We have been to Europe and Japan several times. We've been to the Middle East twice. In the coming season, we're going to be doing more programs on location. The first of October we're taping a program from the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. The rest of the plans are sketchy but they will include at least three remotes from around the country."

Last season, "American Interests" telecast from Boston and Des Moines. "It seems to work well when we involve the local public broadcasting station and local people -- it becomes something of an event for them," he said.

"American Interests," moderated by Morton M. Kondracke, senior editor of The New Republic, attracts "a very literate viewership, as judged by the mail," said Freeman. "It is a loyal and thoughtful and letter-writing viewership. We frequently get long, very intelligent, heavily referenced letters from just folks out there who have heavily invested time and trouble in writing them. Most of the mail is very appreciative."

Professors, he said, use "American Interests" in university classrooms, often as a core for a seminar discussion, and sometimes ask Freeman for supplemental reading lists. He tries to oblige, he said, although he couldn't meet all the requests that followed Henry Kissinger's recent discussion of the Persian Gulf situation.

Freeman, the show's executive producer, has been remarkably successful in scheduling key guests, including Kissinger, King Hussein of Jordan, British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, Sony Corp. chairman Akio Morita, Secretary of State James Baker and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, plus members of Congress, business leaders and foreign ambassadors.

"What we've found is that if you have a television camera and a national audience, virtually anybody is available," he said.

Well, not quite. He still hasn't been able to feature British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or Mikhail Gorbachev, both heavily booked when they are here.

"I think the lesson of our experience is that if you can hang on long enough, you get lucky. The big stories do start coming your way and you begin to get that level of recognition and acceptance that you need.

"Of course, it helps if the whole world conspires to help."