President Carter, on the first leg of a 16,000-mile journey that will take him to six nations, arrived here tonight to a low-keyed, tightly controlled but officially cordial reception from the Polish Communist government.

On a cold damp night Carter was greeted warmly at a remote area of Warsaw's Okecie airport by Edward Gierek, a former coal miner who rose to become first secretary of the Polish Communist Party, and several dozen other government officials.

Both men spoke fondly of Polish-American ties, but largely skipped over the specific issues they are expected to discuss during the President's 36-hour stay.

Even before Carter arrived, however, the more immediate developments in the Middle East began to intrude on the ambitious itinerary.

American officials traveling with the President told reporters aboard Air Force One that Carter will meet with Jordan's King Hussein in Tehran, Iran, New Year's Day to discuss peace negotiations in the Middle East.

At the same time, the officials all but ruled out a similar meeting with Syrian President Hafes Assad in the near future - last week Carter publicly expressed hope such a meeting could be arranged - and cautioned against experting any "breakthrough stuff" from the Hussein discussions.

U.S. officials are seeking to enlist Jordan and other "moderate" Arab states behind the peace talks now under way between Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

Citing Hussein's potentially "quite critical" role in any settlement involving the Palestinians on the West Bank of the Jordan River, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the president's national security adviser, said:

"What we want from Hussein is a sense of what he sees in the Begin proposal that is constructive and what aspects of that proposal give him real difficulties."

Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who also accompanied Carter, stressed to reporters that the United States has not endorsed the peace plan put forward by Begin on Christmas Day. Rather, he said the United States considers the Begin porposal an "appropriate starting point" for further discussion.

Carter arrived in Warsaw at 10:20 p.m. local time to begin a journey that is expected to include heavy doses of symbolism. Part of that symbolism where will include visits by the President Friday to Polish moniments and memorials and a formal news conferenc - the first time, according to American officials, that an American president will conduct a televised news conference from behind the Iron Curtain.

But Carter and Gierek are also expected to discuss several substantive issues, among them Poland's desire for U.S. credits to shore up its trou- bled economy and the American desire for a more liberal emigration policy to unite separated Polish families from the two countries.

Brzenzinski held out the possibility that Carter will make a decision while in Warsaw on Poland's request for an additional $200 million in agricultural credits. The Polish economy is beset with a severe shortage of meat and other agricultural products an dan attempt last summer to raise meat prices ignited rioting in some areas, forcing the government to back down.

In his remarks at the airport the President mentioned specifically "human rights" as one of the "basic goals" the people of the world seek. But for the most part, both Carter and Gierek avoided such potentially touchy subjects and concentrated instead on the long-standing ties between the two nations despite their officially competing political philosophies.

Citing the Polish influence of the United States, Carter even mentioned that one of his daughters-in-law is from Pulaski County, Georgia, named after Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born hero of the American Revolutionary War.

The President also linked the U.S. Declaration of Independence to the Polish Constitution of 1791, a document that remains of great significance to the Polish people.

Carter's remarks were viewed by observers here as a powerful and direct appeal to the Polish people.

Observers also considered Gierek's remarks to be exceptionally cordial. He, too, stressed U.S.-Polish ties, including the fight against Nazi Germany in World War II, and declared:

"To the people of Poland, security is the supreme value. Life and peace, the fundamental rights."

The arrival ceremonies took place on a bleak carpet of damp concrete at the airport. Bundled against the biting wild wind in topcoats, the President and his wife, Rosalynn, greeted the waiting Polish dignitaries. Mrs. Carter smiled broadly as she was handed a bouquet of flowers.

A military honor guard stood at attention throughout the ceremony. The arrival area contained only three signs, each with white block letters against a red background.

In Polish and English, the sign said, "Cordially welcome to Poland President Jimmy Carter." "Long live lasting and victorious peace," and "Long live friendship between the peoples of Poland and the United States of America."

There were also several hundred civilians at the arrival. They watched quietly and applauded politely after the remarks. They were admitted by government pass and were, according to a Polish official, "people we can trust."

The Carters stayed overnight at Wilanow Palace, an 18th Century French baroque structure. The President's news conference is shceduled for 11:30 a.m. Washington time and is expected to be telecast live in the United States.

Carter will leave here Saturday for Tehran and his meetings with the shah of Iran and King Hussein. During his trip he will also visit India, Saudi Arabia, France and Belgium.