OSLO — The Nobel Peace Prize for 1988 was awarded Thursday to the blue-helmeted peacekeeping forces of the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar hailed the award as a tribute to the idealism and valor of the soldiers serving in trouble spots in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
President Reagan, who with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev had been nominated for the peace prize, said in Washington: "I think it was an admirable decision. I couldn't have deserved it as much as those that got it."
The award, which is accompanied by a grant of 2.5 million Swedish crowns, or about $388,000, will be formally accepted by Perez de Cuellar on Dec. 10. How the money will be used has not been announced.
Perez de Cuellar said the award was "one of the most brilliant decisions taken by the committee of the Nobel Prize." He pointed out that 733 of those serving under the U.N. flag have been killed while trying to keep the peace.
At present 10,000 people from nearly 30 countries are on U.N. peacekeeping duty. The most recently assigned are on the border between Iran and Iraq.
A spokesman for the U.N. forces in Lebanon, Timor Goksel, said: "We are absolutely elated. It is a great day for us after all these really hard times."
'Peace and Understanding'
Other U.N. forces are serving on Israel's borders with Lebanon and Syria, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement Thursday that said, in part, "Even more than a prize for existing achievements, this is a testimony of the yearning for peace and understanding between peoples."
At the Norwegian headquarters of the Nobel Institute, Committee Chairman Egil Aarvik read a committee statement that said the peacekeeping forces "have under extremely difficult conditions contributed to reducing tensions." Their presence, it said, "made a decisive contribution toward the initiation of actual peace negotiations."
Aarvik told reporters that Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev were "very serious" contenders for the peace prize because of their role in reaching an agreement on the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
He did not rule out the possibility that the two leaders will be considered for the prize next year and added, with a smile, "Never say never."
Possible Campaign Factor
Aarvik said Reagan's chances for the 1988 award may have suffered because of the election campaign now under way in the United States. Presumably a Nobel Peace Prize for Reagan would have improved the fortunes of Vice President George Bush, the Republican presidential candidate.
Aarvik, asked if this had been a factor in the five-member committee's deliberations, said, "We take everything into consideration--even that."
Others among the 97 candidates for the peace prize this year were Pope John Paul II; Nelson R. Mandela, the imprisoned South African black leader; President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, and Diego Cordovez, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, for his efforts to arrange a settlement of the war in Afghanistan.
Last year the prize went to President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica for his plan to end the guerrilla wars in Central America.
The peace prize was established by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, together with prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry and literature. Under the terms of Nobel's will, a committee set up by the Norwegian Parliament selects the peace prize winner from candidates nominated by lawmakers, jurists and academics. The other prizes are awarded by Swedish institutions.
Cause of Peace
The peace prize was first awarded in 1901 and has generally gone to humanitarian individuals or organizations devoted to the cause of international peace.
Other U.N. agencies and officials have been recipients, but the prize has also been awarded to people active in the field of human rights: South African Albert J. Luthuli for 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. for 1964, Soviet dissident Andrei D. Sakharov for 1975, Polish labor leader Lech Walesa for 1983, Bishop Desmond M. Tutu of South Africa for 1984 and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel for 1986.
In its statement Thursday, the Nobel Committee said the U.N. peacekeeping forces "are recruited from among the young people of many nations, who, in keeping with their ideals, voluntarily take on a demanding and hazardous service in the cause of peace. Thus the world organization has come to play a more central part in world affairs and has been invested with increasing trust."
The committee pointed out that it distinguished between "two kinds of peacekeeping operations--unarmed observer groups and lightly armed military forces."
40th Anniversary Year
Chairman Aarvik noted that this was the 40th anniversary of the first U.N. peacekeeping force, which was set up to monitor the armistice between Israel and the Arab states in 1948.
Since then, U.N. peacekeepers have served in the Congo, Cyprus and the Middle East, on the India-Pakistan border and, most recently, in Afghanistan and on the Iran-Iraq border.
"The United Nations has in these and other areas played a significant role in reducing the level of conflict, even though the fundamental causes of the struggles frequently remain," the statement concluded.
Aarvik said that by giving the prize to the U.N. peacekeepers, the committee was also recognizing the "U.N. family as a whole."