Even while outlining an ''agenda for peace,'' President Reagan has underscored the wide gap between the two superpowers over arms control and other issues.
In his June 17 speech to the special United Nations session on disarmament, President Reagan was severe in tone when it came to the Soviet Union, voicing harsh criticism of Soviet actions overseas.
''Soviet aggression and support for violence around the world have eroded the confidence needed for arms negotiations,'' the President said.
Reagan accused the Soviets of ''trying to manipulate the peace movement in the West'' while ''stifling a budding peace movement'' at home.
The President did not directly address the Soviet pledge, made before the same forum two days before, not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. Reagan said that deeds, not words, were needed to convince the United States of Soviet sincerity.
President Reagan summarized the four proposals that he has put forward over the past seven months, calling these an ''agenda for peace'': elimination of medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe; a one-third reduction in long-range nuclear missile warheads; substantial cuts in NATO and Warsaw Pact forces; and new safeguards to reduce the risk of accidental war.
The tone of the speech seemed to indicate that the US and the Soviet Union have made little or no progress so far in negotiations on medium-range missiles, which began last November, and that prospects for a summit meeting between Presidents Reagan and Brezhnev before the end of the year remained uncertain.
Some American arms control experts saw a glimmer of hope, however, in statements made by the two sides on safeguards and on chemical weapons.
In his speech, President Reagan called for a ''truly effective and verifiable chemical weapons agreement.'' He accused the Soviets of violating the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and a 1972 biological weapons convention. He said there was ''conclusive evidence that the Soviet government has provided toxins for use in Laos and Kampuchea (Cambodia), and are themselves using chemical weapons against freedom fighters in Afghanistan.''
In delivering a speech from Soviet President Brezhnev to the same UN session on disarmament, Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister, declared that everything should be done to eliminate chemical weapons. He called for a prohibition on such weapons.
One State Department arms-control expert found it encouraging that Brezhnev, through Gromyko, had offered to open ''a part'' of the Soviet Union's civilian nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
The experts see the possibility of fairly rapid progress on point four of the four-part Reagan agenda: safeguards to reduce the risk of accidental war. The Reagan administration is currently undertaking interagency studies of proposals to reduce that risk. These would include, among other things, advance notification of test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles both inside and outside national boundaries.
As a State Department official put it, these would be ''small steps'' compared with the negotiating progress required under the other three points in the Reagan agenda. There the prospects for progress appear to be less bright.
In his UN speech, Reagan broke little new ground. One new element, however, was his proposal for an international conference on military expenditures around the world, which would presumably demonstrate that the Soviets outspend the Americans on defense.
It was not immediately clear who was winning the superpower public relations battle at the United Nations over nuclear arms and arms control proposals. But the Soviets clearly made some impact with their no-first-use declaration. The Americans, however, argue that the Soviets can afford to propose this because they enjoy superiority in conventional, or nonnuclear, weapons in Europe and thus have no need to be the first to use nuclear weapons there.