Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, at a dinner for visiting Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, called tonight for a pan-Asian security conference to reduce tensions on the continent. "The people of Asia are not less interested in ensuring peace and peaceful cooperation" than those living elsewhere, he said.
Gandhi received a lavish welcome on his first foreign visit since taking office last October. His talks produced a series of agreements on commercial and technological matters and it was believed here that the Indians discussed new purchases of Soviet weapons. The Soviet defense minister, Marshal Sergei Sokolov, took part in the talks.
Gorbachev sharply criticized U.S. military policy and accused Washington of interference in the affairs of Third World countries. He said India, current chairman of the Nonaligned Movement, could play "a very important role" in a process that could lead to an all-Asian security conference along the lines of the 1975 Helsinki meeting on European security -- which was originally proposed by the Soviets.
Several regional Asian security initiatives "and, in some measure Europe's experience," Gorbachev said, may lead to a "common, comprehensive approach to the problem of security in Asia and a possible pooling of efforts by Asian states.
"The way to this is a complicated one," he continued, "but the road to Helsinki was not smooth and even either. Here, different methods are evidently possible -- bilateral and multilateral consultations -- up to holding at some point in the future an all-Asian forum for an exchange of opinions and a joint search for constructive solutions."
Gorbachev said Asian security problems were "even more acute and painful than in Europe. He suggested that apart from India, the Soviet Union and China would be key players in such an Asian forum, from which the United States presumably would be excluded.
Diplomatic observers here said the idea of a pan-Asian security conference was not new but Gorbachev had presented it in greater detail. His proposal was seen as an effort by Moscow to seize the diplomatic initiative in Asia.
The Soviet leader indirectly blamed the United States for much of the difficulties in the Third World. Commercial and strategic interests, he said, have led "imperialist powers" to interfere in internal affairs of other countries and declare their "sphere of vital interests without even asking the opinion" of these nations.
This is the source of regional conflicts, he said, rather than "the much discussed superpower rivalries." The Soviet leader called on all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to make a pledge of noninterfernece in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He also renewed criticism of President Reagan's plan to develop a space-based antimissile defense system.
Gandhi, in his dinner speech, did not address the question of a pan-Asian conference. But he endorsed the proposal on noninterference in Third World countries and offered overall support of Moscow's proposals on arms control.
Gandhi also thanked the Soviets for their economic assistance. "We are interested in stable and long-term expansion of trade and economic relations which takes cognizance of the needs, constraints and potentialities of our two national economies," he said.
Gandhi's visit was seen here as being designed to reassure the Soviets that he intends to maintain close ties with them, although he may want to improve his links with the West as well. Gandhi is due to visit Washington after a trip to France next month.