UN in limelight on its 40th anniversary. But event may be overshadowed by coming superpower summit

For once the United Nations is going to be in the limelight. The 40th annual session will be attended by more than 100 kings, presidents, and prime ministers who have come to celebrate the organization's 40th birthday.

Many come with the intent to revitalize the UN, to recommit themselves to its principles. Others may pay lip service to the UN, or make a point in the interest of their particular countries from the podium as they address the General Assembly.

According to many experts, East-West issues will outshine North-South issues at the meeting.

One West European diplomat says this session of the General Assembly will be heavily influenced by this year's main diplomatic event -- the summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in November in Geneva.

``Everyone -- medium-sized powers, large third-world countries, and others, are going to jockey to position themselves in anticipation of a deal occuring, or not occuring, for that matter, between the two superpowers,'' this diplomat says.

``Nobody wants to be left out in the cold, so leaders are now preparing to take sides or distance themselves from the [United States and the Soviet Union] as they themselves prepare to bargain,'' says another NATO official.

The speeches of US Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze will be read and analyzed with great care since they will give an indication of Mr. Reagan's and Mr. Gorbachev's intentions in Geneva.

Mr. Shevardnadze's meeting with Mr. Shultz on Wednesday, and then with President Reagan in Washington on Friday will steal the show, even though, during the first two weeks of the General Assembly session, 160 foreign ministers will meet with one another at a frantic pace, discussing hundreds of major or minor bilateral and multilateral issues.

``It is going to be a fascinating diplomatic fair. The French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas has 30 meetings planned with other foreign ministers. The same roughly is true of Brazil's President, of George Shultz, of China's prime minister, and so on.''

On Thursday the Security Council will meet at its highest level; each of the 15 member nations will be represented by the nations' foreign ministers.

One UN official says the meetings this week will resemble ``a big reshuffling of cards.'' All the burning issues (Afghanistan, Kampuchea, Namibia, the Middle East, the Falklands, Antartica, torture, terrorism, and famine) will be the focus of intense negotiations in and around UN headquarters before they are discussed at the General Assembly.

Whether movement on any of these issues will be produced on any of these complex matters remains to be seen.

``Much will depend on whether Reagan and Gorbachev pursue their cold war or initiate a thaw in US-USSR relations,'' says one observer.

In a recently published report, UN Secretary General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar pleaded passionately with the major powers to allow the United Nations to resolve at least two, or perhaps even one, of these issues not directly related to East-West rivalry.

He called on member countries to stop using the UN to make ideological and self-serving statements lest the UN turn into ``an assembly of drivelers.''

A number of issues are certain to stir much interest.

One is the US threat to cut its financial support to the UN from 25 percent to 20 percent of its overall budget unless the US gets a larger voice on UN budget matters.

Many delegates, including Western allies, claim that such a cut would be impermissible under the terms of the UN charter.

There is also bound to be sharp criticism of France because of its nuclear experiments in the South Pacific.

One controversial new idea is ``the right to development,'' as developing countries call it. The demands of those call for this right to development include: generous terms for rescheduling the debts owed by Latin American countries, reduced US and European protectionism regarding third-world products, and more generous terms for trade. These would be achieved through global negotiations. (See related story page 9.)

Yet calls for the right to development may meet with strong resistance on the part of many industrialized countries, says one US diplomat, in that many of the demands may seem unreasonable or at least unrealistic to the developed countries.

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