President Carter has begun negotiations with world leaders aimed at reducing the international arms traffic and first responses have been favorable, the White House said yesterday.

Carter told 22 visiting news executives at a White House meeting Friday he had been in touch with leaders of the Soviet Union, France, Germany and Great Britain to seek cooperation "in an effort to cut down the quantity of arms sold throughout the world."

While the leaders have "responded favorably so far," Carter said in a transcript made public yesterday by the White House, there is not as yet any "tangible agreement." But there is "a general concern around the world that arms sales are excessive," the President told a questioner who estimated that the United States is now selling $12 billion worth of arms a year overseas.

When Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance toured the Middle East last month, Carter said, leaders of every nation he visited told the Secretary that they were "spending too much of our money on weapons." It is hard, the president observed, for any nation in the tense Middle East to make a unilateral decision to halt arms buying.

"I think that this puts a responsibility back on our country, the major arms supplier of the world, to try to induce Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, Jordan to cut down on the quantity of arms they buy," Carter said.

Carter did not refer to the willingness of some other suppliers, including potential adversaries, to step in if the United States undertakes to cut back on sales to its arms clients. But he did indicate that efforts are being made to persuade client states to reduce the volume of their purchases.

"We can take a considerable amount of action bilaterally when we get the buyers . . . of arms to agree to cut down the quantity of their orders," carter said, "and on a unilateral basis there is going to be more to come.

"But I think we can get ouir own allies and our potential adversaries to minimize or reduce their figures on arms sales."