Japan, China and Zaire yesterday joined what appears to be a rising international tide of support for President Carter's proposal that the 1980 Summer Olympics be moved from Moscow, postponed or canceled in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
State Department officials said that the governments of 35 nations, though not necessiarly their national Olympic committees, have publicly or privately expressed support for the president's position, and that "world opinion is definitely moving the direction that Moscow, under present circumstances, is not a suitable site."
Meanwhile, Carter, in a speech to a physical fitness convention here, said he is "determined that the United States will make it clear to the Soviet Union, just as other countries are doing, that no country can trample the life and liberty of another and expect to conduct business or sports as usual with the rest of the world."
Carter also renewed his call for alternative games to be organized if Soviet troops remain in Afghanistan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rejects a resolution, adopted unanimously be the executive board of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) last weekend, urging that the Moscow games be relocated, postponed or called off.
"I want athletes from around the world to know that I am determined personally that they will have an opportunity to participate this year in international games to the highest quality," the president said, "but unless invading forces in Afghanistan are withdrawn, in a location other than the Soviet Union."
The president has said that if Soviet troops are not fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by Feb. 20 and the games go on as scheduled in Moscow, July 19 through Aug. 3, he will not support the participation of Americans.
Administration officials also have indicated that the United States is willing to support, financially and logistically, the shift of the games to another site or multiple sites, and failing that, the organization of an alternative "Free World Olympics."
The most significant international support to date for the U.S. position came from Tokyo and Peking, where government spokesmen, in official statements, urged their national Olympic committees to help persuade the IOC that Moscow is no longer a satisfactory site.
If the Games take place in Moscow, the governments strongly recommend that Japanese and Chinese athletes not participate. The Chinese Olympic Committee -- readmitted to the IOC last November after Taiwan was ruled no longer eligible to compete as the Republic of China -- certainly will abide by the government's request. The Japanese committee also is expected to follow its government's lead.
The Japanese government's decision that it is desirable for its Olympic committee to pull out of the Moscow Games, and its formal advisory to the committee "to take appropriate steps" to implement this decision likely will have a strong impact on other American allies, notably West Germany and France, that so far have waffled on the Olympic issue.
In another development, Zaire became the first black African nation to announce that it will not participate in Moscow.
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who Thursday accepted President Carter's invitation to help rally Third-World support for the U.S. position, is expected to try to convince others to follow suit. He is to leave India Sunday for meetings with officials in Tanzania, Kenva, Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal, the State Department announced.
As world support for the U.S. position gained momentum yesterday, Soviet officials showed their first outward signs of nervousness about the Moscow Games.
In Frankfurt, Soviet officials were busy lobbying at a conference of national Olympic committee officials from 10 Western European countries. The meeting adjourned after five hours. A noncommital communique was issued, reasserting the autonomy of the committees and their freedom from political influences, and announcing their intention to meet again in Brussels on March 22.
Vitali Smirnov, vice chairman of the Soviet Olympic Committee, who is on his way to Lake Placid, N.Y., for IOC meetings, said at a news conference in Paris, "The organizers of the Moscow Olympic Games believe that at the present time a major international sports competition, and even more so the Olympic Games, are unthinkable without an American participation."
Smirnov called on the United States to attend the Moscow games, but later when pressed by western reporters, refused to clairfy or elaborate on his statement that an Olympics without American participation is unthinkable.
The ambiguous remark, and the fact that Smirnov did not retract it but refused to explain it when questioned by reporters, led to speculation that the Soviets are embarking on a new strategy, either trying to induce the United States into participating in Moscow or possibly thinking about calling off the games.
Smirnov is one of two Soviet members of the IOC, which is to meet Feb. 10-12 and consider the USOC resolution on the Moscow games. Officials of the Moscow Organizing Committee have requested a private meeting with USOC officials at Lake Placid.
State Department spokesman Hodding Carter said the governments of 18 countries have publicy indicated their support for the U.S. position on the Moscow games: Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Chile, Haiti, Australia, Fiji, New Guinea, New Zealand, the People's Republic of China, Djibouti, Zaire, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
He said that about 15 others had privately expressed support, but that "it wouldn't be appropriate to list" them.
Another department official said that "many governments have told us that they favor moving the Games and oppose participation by their athletes in Moscow, but that this is a matter for their Olympic committees to decide . . . There is a great deal of variance between what the governments have told us and what their national Olympic committees are saying publicly."
This assessment would include such critical allies as France and West Germany, but State Department and White House officials are confident that these nations eventually will follow Japan into the fold of solidarity and support the U.S. position.
The Carter administation says it has turned the corner in lining up sufficient international support to sway the IOC or to turn the Games, by virture of massive withdrawals, into what Carter suggested in his speech yesterday would be "a meaningless or even hypocritical spectacle."