Speaking to a crowded session of the UN General Assembly, Secretary of State George P. Shultz told delegates yesterday that the refusal of some governments to accept demands for democracy and freedom were the main source of conflict in the world. In a speech laced with criticisms of the Soviet Union, Mr. Shultz said, ``On every continent -- from Nicaragua to Poland, from South Africa to Afghanistan and Cambodia -- we see that the yearning for freedom is the most powerful political force all across the planet.''
Regarding arms control talks now under way at Geneva, Shultz said that ``Soviet acts of good faith and willingness to reach fair agreements will be more than matched on the American side.'' But he said that ``thus far the Soviet Union has not negotiated with a responsiveness that the talks require.''
Scoring the Soviets for substituting ``blatantly one-sided'' propaganda for specific proposals at the Geneva bargaining table, Shultz also reaffirmed the Reagan administration's argument that strategic defense is the safest form of nuclear deterrence. Schultz noted former Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin's support of antimissile defenses as ``intended not for killing people but for saving human lives.''
Comments by Shultz were made here yesterday as the largest-ever assembly of world leaders converged on New York to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the UN.
But for this week, at least, the focus at the UN will be on East-West relations, as Secretary Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Schevardnadze meet to start final preparations for November's summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Schevardnadze, paying his first visit to the US, will meet with Shultz on Wednesday before going to Washington Friday to meet with President Reagan.
Diplomatic sources say the Shultz-Schevardnadze talks will focus on narrowing differences in three areas comprising the main agenda for the November summit.
Bilateral issues: The most promising area of agreement at the summit includes a series of bilateral issues that have been under negotiation for 18 months. Progress on a series of bilateral issues was hinted when US, Soviet, and Japanese negotiators reached preliminary agreement last July on measures designed to increase the safety of civilian air craft flying in the Northern Pacific.
Regional issues: In his meeting with Schevardnaze Wednesday, Shultz is expected to propose bilateral talks on Latin America, the latest in a series of high-level discussions on key regional issues begun earlier this year. Although previous talks have not led to any agreement, both sides have supported the discussions as a means of containing threats posed by different views of regional matters including Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Arms control: The central item on the superpower agenda remains deadlocked over Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
So far, hopes for breaking the impasse have focused on a possible trade-off involving limits on SDI in exchange for substantial reductions in Soviet offensive weapons. In two recent interviews, Gorbachev renewed hints that the Soviets might be willing to strike such a compromise by making cuts of up to 40 percent of Soviet missiles in return for a ban on SDI testing by the US.
But last week, Reagan appeared to close the door on such an agreement, ruling out any arrangement that would limit either ``testing'' or ``development'' of SDI.
Shultz also addressed a range of other global political and economic issues. Referring to South Africa, Shultz urged leaders of that country's government to begin negotiations with black leaders, saying, ``The issue is not whether apartheid is to be dismantled, but how and when.'' Earlier this month, the Reagan administration imposed a package of economic sanctions on South Africa. Shultz also criticized what he called ``communist colonialism'' in countries including Afghanistan and Cambodia where US a id has gone to support antigovernment resistance forces.
``Unlike the old European empires that came to accept the postwar reality of self-determination and national independence, the new colonialists are swimming against the tide of history,'' said Shultz.