International divisions were briefly set aside today as representatives of more than 100 countries paid tribute to the memory of President Tito, last survivor of the charismatic wartime generation of world leaders. He will be buried here Thursday.
Vice President Mondale and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev narrowly missed meeting each other as they laid wreaths in rapid succession on Tito's flag-covered coffin at the parliament building in downtown Belgrade. The ceremonies were kept simple, but political overtones crept in as world statesmen of vastly different creeds all laid claim to the Yugoslav leader's heritage.
Behind the scenes of a Belgrade decked out in mourning, a series of private bilateral talks got under way between the different delegations. Avoiding all contact with Soviet Bloc representatives, Mondale met for an hour with the new Yugoslave president, Lazar Kolisevski, and was later scheduled to hold talks with several West European leaders.
In an arrival statement, Mondale reaffirmed American support for Yugoslavia's independence and territorial integrity. Later, at his meeting with Yugoslav officials, he described U.S.-Yugoslav relations as better now than at any time in the past 35 years and stated American readiness to work with Yugoslavia in the post-Tito era.
Brezhnev also spoke of his warm personal friendship for Tito, the world's oldest communist ruler, when he arrived at Belgrade airport. In private remarks overheard by the swarm of foreign journalists milling around, he said he has decided to come himself because of his respect for Tito and the importance he attached to Moscow's relations with Yugoslavia.
The scene at the airport -- with heads of state of countries as diverse as North Korea, Italy, Tanzania, Romania, India, Peru, West Germany, Poland, Ethiopia, and Finland arriving at 20-minute intervals -- was itself testimony to Tito's unique ability to develop good relations with countries of all ideological shades.
Zambia's President Kenneth Kaunda broke down and wept as he gazed intently at the coffin.
Italian President Sandro Pertini laid his hand on Tito's coffin after brushing away his tears.
Two leaders were conspicuous by their absence: President Carter and Cuba's Fidel Castro.
At a press briefing, U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Eagleburger expressed surprise at reports of Yugoslav concern at the relatively low level of American representation at the funeral. He said: "No Yugoslav, either official or unofficial, has indicated the least unhappiness to me or my staff with the presence of the vice president rather than President Carter."
Tonight, Mondale held a one-hour meeting with Romania's maverick President Nicolae Ceausescu who has frequently differed from his Soviet Bloc allies over foreign policy. Observers here said it was significant that the Romanian leader was singled out for special attention since he appears to have come under considerable pressure in recent months to voice approval for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.