Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze charged today that the American "Star Wars" program is an ill-advised attempt "to gain military superiority in the nuclear age" and proposed a "Star Peace" concept of international space cooperation as an alternative.
Shevardnadze, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, said Moscow is "convinced" that the Nov. 19-20 U.S.-Soviet summit meeting should focus on the central issues of nuclear arms control, including the space arms issue where the two nations seem to be at loggerheads.
The Soviet minister's spokesman, Vladimir Lomeiko, declined to confirm reports that Shevardnadze is bringing to the Reagan administration new Soviet proposals for large-scale reductions of offensive weapons, conditional on U.S. restrictions on its Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program, popularly known as Star Wars.
Shevardnadze said in his speech that "the Soviet delegation has brought to the current round of the Geneva negotiations substantial, large-scale and far-reaching proposals," but he did not say whether they had yet been presented.
President Reagan, speaking in Knoxville, Tenn., said, "We've received no offer either here or . . . in Geneva." A State Department spokesman called Shevardnadze's remarks "an indication" the Soviets will bring new proposals to Geneva but said none had been received.
Shevardnadze's statement, his heavy emphasis on the dangers of an "arms race in outer space" and his enthusiastic references to Soviet arms control initiatives did nothing to dampen the widespread speculation.
Shevardnadze is to meet here Wednesday with Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who sat in the General Assembly chamber taking copious notes while his counterpart spoke. The Soviet is to meet Reagan at the White House Friday.
Shevardnadze, however, did not show up for Shultz's address here yesterday, an omission that the Soviet official's spokesman attributed today to "personal circumstances" that he did not explain.
Like Shultz's address yesterday, Shevardnadze had little good to say today about the other nuclear superpower except for a single paragraph expressing the desire for progress at the Geneva meeting of Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Shevardnadze, who succeeded the veteran Andrei Gromyko in July, absolved his country from responsibility for the arms race, the Cold War and Third World conflicts, and blamed the United States and its allies for "the current critical state of international relations."
He charged that the West in the early 1980s "wrecked the structure of negotiations which had taken such an effort to build" during the 1970s and halted steps toward a complete nuclear test ban, control of conventional arms, a ban on antisatellite systems and other points of negotiation.
His greatest emphasis, however, was in the outer space area, and here Shevardnadze and his aides displayed the public relations consciousness that has become increasingly prominent in Soviet diplomacy.
The catchy "Star Peace" slogan was attached to proposals Shevardnadze sent to the United Nations on Aug. 18, with little public notice.
At the time, the title given them by Moscow was not "Star Peace" but "Main Directions and Principles of International Cooperation in Peaceful Exploration of Outer Space in the Conditions of Its Nonmilitarization."
The proposals were further emphasized today in an unusual Soviet press conference attended by more than 100 correspondents, mostly from the West.
The plan involves renunciation of the militarization of space, including research to that end, creation of a "world space organization" to explore the heavens on behalf of mankind and an "international space conference" to plan cooperation among nations with space research capability.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman later said an existing U.N. committee on peaceful uses of outer space "would seem to be an adequate mechanism" for peaceful cooperation in this arena. Redman said the United States sees "no linkage" between the Soviet proposal for peaceful cooperation and strategic defense research, "which both countries are conducting."
Shevardnadze devoted much time in his address to what he called "the sinister plans of Star Wars" and the basis for Soviet opposition.
Describing the current strategic situation involving the threat of mutual annihilation as "strategic equilibrium," he said a space-based antimissile shield was destabilizing and could provide its possessor with the ability to deliver a "first disarming nuclear strike."
"Yet this is precisely the thrust of the new U.S. military programs, already under way or about to be launched," he charged. He said that "our country will not permit miliary superiority over itself."
He went on to say that the Soviet Union will thus match any U.S. program, but at a higher level of arms and increased danger of war.
Shevardnadze was more positive than the usual Soviet spokesman about the need for verification through "national means," that is, space satellites, or "in combination with international, whenever there is an objective necessity for this." He gave no details.