When President Reagan spoke to the United Nations in 1982, during a calmer period in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, he took the occasion to denounce the Soviets' "ruthless repression" and accused them of tyranny, aggression and various atrocities.
Today, Reagan will speak to the U.N. General Assembly a second time and, in the aftermath of the destruction of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, is expected to soft-pedal the harsher aspects of Soviet reality and appeal for U.S.-Soviet negotiations to reduce medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
"The Soviets can have a deal if they want it," said one administration official who participated in the drafting of new U.S. initiatives to be presented in Geneva.
But there is more hope than genuine optimism in the U.S. approach. Privately, there is some thought in high administration circles that the president may have overreached himself in his denunciations of the Soviets after the shooting down of the plane.
"Politically, the president handled the situation effectively," one official said last week. "But the Soviets are so sensitive to our response that the atmosphere is not good for either an arms-control agreement or any real reduction of tensions."
This is a primary reason that Reagan, while still taking a hard line on the airliner downing, will stress what one adviser calls "law and peace" in his U.N. address.
"The president wants an arms agreement, and we're going to be flexible," this adviser said. "But we're not horribly optimistic at the White House these days" about an arms-control pact.
Incidentally, despite Reagan's flirtation with conservative suggestions that the United States send the United Nations packing, U.S. officials are denying firmly that this idea is being pursued in any serious way. They also scoff at another conservative suggestion that the United States should reduce its contributions to the international organization.
Leading the pro-U.N. charge has been Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, a Reagan favorite, who is said to believe that the administration should "take on the Russians, not the United Nations."
Every president ought to get to know his secretary of state, sooner or later, and it is for this purpose that Reagan is to repair to Augusta, Ga., Oct. 22 for a weekend of relaxation and conversation with George P. Shultz.
Reagan's advisers remember the conflicting signals given by the president and his first secretary of state, Alexander M. Haig Jr., on their European odyssey in 1982, and they would like Reagan and Shultz to be on the same wavelength during their scheduled five-nation Asian trip in November.
The president's men also remember how Reagan nodded off during his historic Vatican meeting with Pope John Paul II and they want him well rested in Asia. So, his 10,000-mile journey will begin with a rest stop in Santa Barbara, which should reduce jet lag on the journey to follow.
All of this is fine with Reagan, who will recapture the three days of vacation lost when he was forced to return here prematurely after the airliner was shot down.
To get in some political licks on the way to Santa Barbara, the president is to make two stops: in Dallas for a GOP fund-raising event and in Las Vegas for a speech to businesswomen.
White House officials in the Reagan administration are fond of making even the most obvious or self-serving remarks "on background," which means they cannot be quoted directly. This practice reached new depths of absurdity last week when a senior administration official was asked which side had won in the dispute over the War Powers Resolution. "The country won," he replied.
This fatuous comment is akin to the standard reply of the victorious politician after an election when he proclaims that "the people won." As in the past on Social Security and the MX missile, Congress talked tough but rolled over on the War Powers Resolution.
What the administration really wanted, beyond all the legalistic palaver about the War Powers Resolution, was a congressional imprimatur for military involvement in Lebanon that would carry beyond the 1984 elections. Thanks to a docile congressional leadership, the administration has succeeded beyond its wildest expectations in gaining bipartisan support for an involvement in which even the most optimistic Reaganites see no early hope of disengagement.
Observation of the Week: (In a Reagan speech to regional editors and broadcasters last Wednesday): "Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan D-N.Y. once pointed out that countries which have papers filled with good news usually have jails filled with good people."
Reaganism of the Week: (From a Reagan fund-raising speech in Columbia, S.C., last Tuesday): "And you know that national anthem of ours. I don't know all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any that end with a question. Yes, the question was the one that Francis Scott Key asked, did we see, could we see that banner through the smoke and the bomb burst when morning came? Well, today, we can ask the same question. When he asked, was it floating o'er the land of the--ah, the home of the free, or the land of the brave and the home of the free?"