Washington — President Reagan, after nearly 10 months in office, is finding problems pressing in on him. And he was clearly seeking to cope with these adversities at his fifth nationally-broadcast press conference, as he endeavored to quieten his critics on a number of issues.
Above, all, Mr Reagan appeared to be backing off from his recent economic initiatives. However, he tried to make a clear retreat sound like nothing more than a reasonable response to unforeseen conditions.
The President, according to one senior White House aide, came into the recent press conference with the goal of trying to persuade the assembled reporters and TV audience that he was sticking to his guns - that his plans were not in disarray, that he was not retreating.
Mr. Reagan, while announcing that he would defer until next year his request that Congress provide new spending cuts and some ''revenue enhancements,'' emphasized that he was not throwing in the towel.
''Our plan for economic recovery is sound,'' he said. ''It was designed to correct the problems we faced. I am determined to stick with it and stay on course, and I will not be deterred by temporary economic changes or short-term political expediency.''
But against the steady battering of tough questioning the President's effort not to fall into a defensive posture at times became transparent. Mr. Reagan remained in command. He kept his poise and his wit. But he was, indeed, somewhat under siege - and he obviously knew it.
Besides emphasizing a steady-as-you-go course despite unforeseen circumstances Mr. Reagan resorted to an old presidential device: to charge the press with responsibility for exaggerating administration problems.
No, Reagan said, he hadn't abandoned his goal of balancing the budget. ''Our goal,'' he said, ''remains the same: we recognize now that the likelihood of meeting it on the 1984 date has become an unlikelihood becouse of unforeseen changes.''
No, the President didn't think the nation was in for a real economic ''downer.'' But he admitted to a misestimate on the economy:
''While we had predicted, as you well know, a stagnant economy . . . none of us had predicted the stepping over into recession. And it has changed some of the estimates and obviously . . . where we are going.''
''But'' he said, ''I think all of us are agreed that we are going to come out of it in the next several months.'' He predicted the rebound would come ''in the spring or the latest, early summer of 1982.''
No, said Reagan, there were no serious conflicts among his aides, particularly between Secretary of State Alexander Haig and national security advisor Richard Allen. ''I called them (Haig and Allen) in, actually, to find out on - and to urge that they, with their staffs, just as I have with my own, ensure that we're a little more careful. There seems to be too much just loose talk going around, but it has been exaggerated out of all reality.
''There is no animus, personal animus, and there is no bickering or back-stabbing going on. We're a very happy group.'' (This remark evoked laughter from the press and a smile from the President).
No, too, Reagan insisted, to the charge from critics that his administration is ''in disarray with regard to foreign policy.'' Here he cited what he saw as administration accomplishments in bettering relations with heads of state in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Also, he said, ''we have a better rapport established now between the three north American countries than I believe we've ever had.''
He then cited the Ottawa summit and Cancun conference as further administration achievements and added: ''I think in the Middle East: we've progressed there.''
No, he said, he wasn't moving toward making war anywhere. ''We have no plans for putting Americans in combat anyplace in the world and our goal is peace; it has always been, and at the end of this month we will go into negotiations with the Soviet Union on what I hope will be reduction of the theater nuclear weapons in Europe to the lowest point possible.''
Asserting that the El Salvador conflict results from ''exported revolution . . . expansionist policy of the Soviet Union and Cuba,'' he said: ''I don't believe this requires in any way, nor have we considered, aid of the kind of actual military intervention on our part.''
The President failed to clarify whether there was a contingency plan in the NATO doctrine for a demonstration nuclear shot in Europe. Secretary of State Haig previously said there was. And Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said there wasn't.
After the press conference, deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said that the President knows what is in the plans but that ''he wasn't going into contingencies.''
Of the possibility that limited nuclear warfare in Europe could take place without necessarily bringing about nuclear missile exchanges between the US and the Soviets, Mr. Reagan said ''. . .I think you still have to say that that possibility could take place.''
The President, too, counterpunched against the press. He said that ''the picture that has been given of chaos and disarray (in the administration) is a disservice to the country and to other countries and allies as well.''
Earlier in the week Mr. Reagan had suggested that reporters consider whether news reports critical of his administration were going to help or hinder his foreign policy efforts. He asked them to consider their patriotism.