The State Department said yesterday that the terrorist attack on Israel must not be permitted to undermine Middle East peace efforts and it called on Israel to avoid retaliation that would cost more "innocent lives."
Spokesman Hodding Carter's measured response to the weekend events reflected official concern that the passions raised by the Palestinian guerrilla raid - and by the likely Israeli counteraction - could be a serious setback to the already precarious Arab-Israel negotiations.
There was also concern that a Saudi Arabian state radio broadcast commending the attack - and longterm Saudi financing of the Palestine Liberation Organization - might cause new hurdles for the proposed sale of F15 warplanes to Saudi Arabia.
However, the State Department quoted Saudi Ambassador Ali Abdallah Alireza as saying that he had confirmed by contact with Foreign Minister Saud Faisal that the Riyadh radio broadcast did not represent the Saudi official position.
Egyptian officials and state-controlled Cairo newspapers said the terrorist incident proved that peace cannot be achieved without settlement of the Palestinian question. But according to United Press International, the Egyptians were careful not to condemn or vraise Saturday's guerrilla raid near Tel Aviv.
The early editions of today's Cairo newspapers said Egypt had made it clear to the United States that any Israeli retaliatory strike would have serious consequences for Middle East peace.
Moscow Radio, in a broadcast to the Arab world, blamed the attack on efforts by the Unites States and Israel to "isolate" the Palestinian problem, "thus pepetuating the deprivation of 3 million Palestinians of their rights."
The State Department would not confirm reports that the United States has discussed witha Israel a concern about the consequences of overreaction. However, spokesman Carter said that the terrorist raid "obviously presents Israel with a very painful and serious dilemma."
Carter said the Israel "has legitimate security interest which must be protected. At the same time no one wants to add to the suffering and loss of innocent lives anywhere in the world.
Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, who spoke by telephone Sunday with Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, called at the State Department yesterday to ask the United States to close the PLO observer office at the United Nations in New York because of the PLO-sponsored raid.
U.S. diplomats were also in touch with the government of Lebanon, where the PLO raiding party is generally believed to have originated. Lebanon is considered the most likely area for an Israeli retaliatory action, and the Lebanese government is reportedly worried about the effect that such a movie might have on its fragile national stability.
The worst fear of U. S. officials is that Israeli retaliation - considered inevitable after Prime Minister Menachem Begin's recent statement - might touch off a cycle of action and reaction that could spread into even more serious trouble in the area. Even if this can be avoided, officials are concerned that the Israeli and some Arab positions may be hardened and flexibility reduced of the violence.
State Department spokesman Carter said the United States does not intend to allow the terrorist raid 'to achieve its end of undermining peace efforts." He added that the violence does not change the U. S. positions on key negotiating issues in the Middle East.
The White House announced that Begin's previously planned meetings with Carter will take place March 21 and 22, just one week later than originally scheduled.