U.S. Jewish leaders, saying they remain disappointed with President Reagan's visit to the German military cemetery at Bitburg, yesterday nonetheless praised his remarks at the Bergen-Belsen death camp emphasizing the need to remember the Holocaust, and said they are seeking a meeting on his return to the White House.
The Jewish leaders said they plan to seek commitments from the president on an array of common interests, including the need to increase U.S. pressure for greater Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. They also said they plan to communicate their view that Arab states -- not Israel -- are blocking any Middle East peace plan by failing to recognize Israel as a "sovereign state."
"Obviously we have differences over Bitburg, and obviously a good deal of pain has been caused by it," said Kenneth J. Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
"But it would be good to spend time with the president and the administration discussing that disappointment and the need to move ahead now on common understandings and common principles. I don't agree with what he has done, but having done that, he is the same man he was before, one of the most empathetic public figures the Jewish community has seen . . . . Like anything else you go and build on areas of common interest."
No date has been set for the meeting, but Bialkin said White House aides have indicated a meeting will take place in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, criticism continued of the visit to the cemetery where 49 members of Hitler's SS are buried. And administration spokesmen continued to be on the defensive.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, appearing on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation," broadcast live from Germany, denied reports that Reagan had apologized to West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl for a "flareup of anti-German sentiment" in the United States because of Bitburg. "The president never apologizes for America," he said.
"Aside from the controversy over the Bitburg visit , which is real and understandable," Shultz said, "the big themes to me are, on the one hand, not 'let's forget,' but 'never forget,' and thereby take on an insurance policy on 'never again.' "
Shultz said not all the SS troops buried at Bitburg were worthy of scorn. He said the body of one SS soldier was exhumed from a grave at Bitburg, "and they found that that SS was buried in the uniform of a concentration camp inmate. He had been executed because he refused to execute people."
Several demonstrations against the visit were held around the nation yesterday.
In New York, a march by nearly 250,000 people to show solidarity with Soviet Jews became a rally against the Bitburg visit.
"This is solidarity Sunday and Bitburg day," said Mayor Edward I. Koch, one of several speakers at the rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. "Bitburg will never be forgotten. It is a stain on the history and record of the president."
About 500 people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery and applauded Holocaust survivor Benjamin Meed who said: "There can be no reconciliation between murderers and their victims."
"I'll never forgive him Reagan ," said Benjamin Goldstein, another concentration camp survivor, who joined with about 400 other Holocaust survivors and their families at a protest on the Boston Common.
In Chicago about 7,000 people joined the annual Walk-With-Israel.
Smaller groups staged protests against Reagan's Bitburg cemetery visit in Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and West Hartford and New Haven, Conn.
However, reaction to Reagan's Bitburg visit among Jewish leaders appeared tempered by their concern over their future relations with the administration.
"The president's eloquence at Bergen-Belsen will resonate for a long time; not so his discomforting walk at Bitburg," said Nathan Perlmutter, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
Howard I. Friedman, president of the American Jewish Committee, said he sensed a "very positive" reaction among Jews to Reagan's words. He added that Reagan "continues to be the president and we value his continued support of Israel, Soviet Jewry and what he did for the Ethiopian Jews so we don't look upon him as an enemy.
"We continue to be sad, frankly, that he went on to Bitburg," Friedman said in an interview.
The American Legion opposed the Bitburg visit, but its national commander, Clarence M. Bacon, said yesterday in Indianapolis that Reagan's speech had a "very upbeat and positive" tone and added to the effort to "further reconciliation between the U.S. and Germany."
Elie Wiesel, the chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council who appealed to Reagan last month in a speech at the White House not to go to Bitburg, said the American Jewish community will increase its political activity to take advantage of the increased awareness of the Holocaust generated by Reagan's visit to Bitburg.