The downing of a South Korean airliner two weeks ago proves that the Soviet Union is "capable of savagery, stupidity or both," and makes a mutual freeze on nuclear weapons all the more urgent, presidential candidate Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said tonight.

Cranston, who has made arms control the centerpiece of his dark-horse candidacy, said he approves of President Reagan's response to the Soviet destruction of the Boeing 747, in which 269 people were killed, but added that Reagan "drew the wrong conclusion" in calling for more defense spending and approval of the MX missile.

Instead, Cranston said, the Soviet action makes clear that an accident could thrust the two superpowers into a nuclear conflict.

"Since we can't trust the Soviets, we need a verifiable agreement . . . to reduce arms," he said.

Cranston spoke at the third in a series of New York forums for Democratic presidential candidates. The session, held in a hotel ballroom here, focused largely on arms issues.

In a speech earlier to the Council on Foreign Relations, Cranston attacked Reagan's Central America policy, saying it undermines efforts of the so-called Contadora countries--Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Mexico--to find a peaceful solution to the conflict there.

Cranston said Reagan was "parading American military macho" in Central America and that administration policies ran the risk of getting the United States involved in hostilities on two continents.

"Unless hotheads in the Pentagon and the White House are restrained, more Americans may soon be shot at and killed in El Salvador and Nicaragua," he said.

The speech to the council was closed to reporters and the public, but a text of Cranston's remarks was made available.

In his speech, Cranston went further than he had in calling for support of the Contadora process. He said the United States should be prepared to engage in direct negotiations with Cuba to end the fighting in the region, said Reagan should "curtail" the military maneuvers in Honduras as well as call off naval exercises in the region, and said he favored internationally supervised elections not only in El Salvador and Nicaragua, but in Guatemala as well.

Cranston said he would introduce a Senate resolution seeking U.S. support for the Contadora group's 10-point peace proposal.

In tonight's forum, Cranston said he opposed the idea of a nuclear build-down, in which the United States and the Soviet Union would eliminate two existing nuclear weapons for each new one built.

On economic issues, he said he would move toward a balanced budget as president, but said he opposed cuts in entitlement programs. He indicated that he would rescind some of the tax cuts enacted during Reagan's administration, and said a national development bank should be created to help restore basic industries.

Calling the Federal Reserve Board's policies "cold and callous and cruel," Cranston said he supported legislation to give each president the opportunity to nominate his own Fed chairman. Cranston Assails Soviets, Calls for Weapons Freeze By Dan Balz Washington Post Staff Writer

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Sept. 15--The downing of a South Korean airliner two weeks ago proves that the Soviet Union is "capable of savagery, stupidity or both," and makes a mutual freeze on nuclear weapons all the more urgent, presidential candidate Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said tonight.

Cranston, who has made arms control the centerpiece of his dark-horse candidacy, said he approves of President Reagan's response to the Soviet destruction of the Boeing 747, in which 269 people were killed, but added that Reagan "drew the wrong conclusion" in calling for more defense spending and approval of the MX missile.

Instead, Cranston said, the Soviet action makes clear that an accident could thrust the two superpowers into a nuclear conflict.

"Since we can't trust the Soviets, we need a verifiable agreement . . . to reduce arms," he said.

Cranston spoke at the third in a series of New York forums for Democratic presidential candidates. The session, held in a hotel ballroom here, focused largely on arms issues.

In a speech earlier to the Council on Foreign Relations, Cranston attacked Reagan's Central America policy, saying it undermines efforts of the so-called Contadora countries--Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Mexico--to find a peaceful solution to the conflict there.

Cranston said Reagan was "parading American military macho" in Central America and that administration policies ran the risk of getting the United States involved in hostilities on two continents.

"Unless hotheads in the Pentagon and the White House are restrained, more Americans may soon be shot at and killed in El Salvador and Nicaragua," he said.

The speech to the council was closed to reporters and the public, but a text of Cranston's remarks was made available.

In his speech, Cranston went further than he had in calling for support of the Contadora process. He said the United States should be prepared to engage in direct negotiations with Cuba to end the fighting in the region, said Reagan should "curtail" the military maneuvers in Honduras as well as call off naval exercises in the region, and said he favored internationally supervised elections not only in El Salvador and Nicaragua, but in Guatemala as well.

Cranston said he would introduce a Senate resolution seeking U.S. support for the Contadora group's 10-point peace proposal.

In tonight's forum, Cranston said he opposed the idea of a nuclear build-down, in which the United States and the Soviet Union would eliminate two existing nuclear weapons for each new one built.

On economic issues, he said he would move toward a balanced budget as president, but said he opposed cuts in entitlement programs. He indicated that he would rescind some of the tax cuts enacted during Reagan's administration, and said a national development bank should be created to help restore basic industries.

Calling the Federal Reserve Board's policies "cold and callous and cruel," Cranston said he supported legislation to give each president the opportunity to nominate his own Fed chairman.