UNITED NATIONS — Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, by turns conciliatory and scornful, Wednesday praised the emerging U.S.-Soviet intermediate-range missile ban as a small step toward a world completely free of nuclear weapons but mocked President Reagan's anti-Communist rhetoric.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Shevardnadze said that the "agreement in principle" he reached last week with Secretary of State George P. Shultz on a treaty to prohibit nuclear missiles with ranges of between 300 and 3,000 miles will "give the world new vision."
"The Soviet Union and the United States have finally spoken together the first words in a nuclear-free vocabulary . . . nuclear weapons and security are not synonymous, security becomes stronger when those weapons disappear," he said.
'Star Wars' Issue
Shevardnadze said he is convinced that U.S. and Soviet negotiators will soon follow the intermediate-range missile ban with a treaty cutting long-range strategic missile arsenals in half. He reiterated, however, Moscow's long-standing demand for curbs on the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, the space-based missile defense program commonly known as "Star Wars." The Reagan Administration has dismissed such curbs as unacceptable.
However, Shevardnadze punctuated his conciliatory message with a barrage of sarcastic references to Reagan's own speech to the General Assembly on Monday.
"I am not going to enjoy engaging in polemics with him," Shevardnadze said of Reagan. "The emotions evoked by the agreement we have reached, my status as a guest and respect for seniority restrain me from taking up, point by point, the allegations and arguments (Reagan made) which are groundless in the extreme.
"But since the President mentioned the human heart, claiming, as it were, a monopoly on having a heart . . . I should like to say: It is heartless to declare regions and continents as zones of special interest for the 'free world' from which it pumps into its economy the resources belonging to other peoples; it is heartless to recruit and arm mercenaries, to proclaim them freedom fighters, and to pay millions of dollars for the murders committed by them; it is heartless to put into the hands of bandits the weapons they use to shoot down civilian airplanes."
In his speech, Reagan criticized the Soviets' behavior in Nicaragua and Afghanistan and accused them of failing to help quell tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Shevardnadze's assertion that he was reluctant to engage in polemics with a U.S. President contrasts with his own earlier speeches to the United Nations and those of his predecessor as foreign minister, Soviet President Andrei A. Gromyko, which were unstinting in their condemnation of U.S. policy. But, Soviet sources said, Shevardnadze's original intention to deliver a generally conciliatory speech this time was changed when he was angered by Reagan's hard-line speech Monday. It reaffirmed U.S. support for the contras in Nicaragua and told Third World nations that the only sure path to prosperity is a free market economy.
"This rostrum is not a pulpit for preaching 'free enterprise,' " Shevardnadze said.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman said that the United States was "encouraged by the introductory comments on recent progress and prospects and we agree with much of what the foreign minister said in that context."
'Lapse Into Lecturing'
"The sarcasm concerning the President's address of Monday seemed particularly misplaced," Redman said. "He appeared to lapse into lecturing in spite of an initial criticism in his own speech of lecturing."
Shevardnadze reiterated Moscow's linkage of progress on a strategic arms reduction pact to a U.S. commitment to continue to adhere to the traditional, narrow, interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would sharply limit testing of elements of the proposed U.S. missile defense system.
To support his argument, Shevardnadze quoted Soviet dissident Andrei D. Sakharov, the nuclear scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to Soviet human rights policies. Reagan had also quoted Sakharov in his speech Monday.
" 'It is wrong to assert that the existence of the SDI program has made the Soviet Union negotiate on disarmament,' " Shevardnadze quoted Sakharov. " 'To the contrary, the SDI program impedes the negotiations.' "
Shevardnadze added: "If we are to believe the academician (Sakharov) in one area, why should we not believe him in another area--where he is an expert?"