Wishes for President Reagan's speedy recovery flooded the White House yesterday as foreign leaders expressed their shock at the attempt on his life.
But the reaction around the world also signed a concern about the ability of the administration to keep up its momentum during the president's convalescence and doubts about a country almost universally considered violence-prone.
As the news of the assassination attempt spread yesterday, the most sensitive areas were those where the Reagan administration had already begun to make its mark -- the Middle East, South Africa, Central America and the Soviet Union.
Leaders in Israel, which is heavily dependent on the United States for aid, protection and assistance in continuing the negotiations for peace, expressed deep concern for the president and his convalescence. Israeli President Yitzhak Navon said, "The implications are very bad for the whole world because the bullet that hit Reagan was a bullet that hit the whole democratic world. . . . We are all shocked and with the American people we pray for his speedy recovery."
Although officials in Israel were uncertain of the implications of the attack, it was presumed that Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. would not make a scheduled visit to the Middle East next week. [In Washington, the administration said the trip had not been canceled.]
Reactions among the Arab states varied. The state-guided press in Saudi Arabia underlined that the attack would bring no significant changes in Reagan's declared policies. Riyadh radio quoted a commentary in the daily Al Jezira saying, "Reagan's policies will be pursued even if he is incapacitated."
Khalid Fahoum, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is usually at odds with U.s. mIddle East policies, articulated a cautious condemnation of the incident to journalists in Damascus, Syria.
"In spite of President Reagan's hostile policy toward the struggle of the Palestinian people to recover its inalienable rights, we denounce any terrorist action," he said.
Syria, another outspoken critic of U.S. policy, also expressed sympathy for Reagan. In Lebanon, Al Amal, the Christian Phalangist newspaper, said that those who "tried to assassinate Reagan were in fact aiming at America's prestige, just as was the case with the late American president John Kennedy."
But also in Beirut, the pro-Libyan As Safir newspaper said the attack was a clear indication of the failure of Reagan's policies.
"What John Hinckley [Reagan's accused assailant] has done is the first open declaration, with bullets, of the failure of Reagan's policy and the need for an end to the cowboy era," the commentary said.
In South Africa, which is looking forward to a vast improvement in its relations with Washington under the Reagan administration, the fear of his death or incapacitation caused great anxiety. Reagan is considered to share Pretoria's fundamental concern about Soviet expansionism in Africa and his death would have been a singular blow to the government there.
These sentiments were hinted at in comments by the South African state president, Marais Viljoen, who called the attempt a "shocking and vile attack on a world leader of whom much is expected." He added that "our prayer is that the president will recuperate speedily so that he will be able to continue his great task in the interests of world peace and development."
In Zimbabwe, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, citing a recent pledge of $225 million by the Reagan administration, said, "At a time when your government has, with its announcement of substantial levels of aid for Zimbabwe over the next three years, demonstrated its belief in and support for an independent Zibmabwe, this act comes as an outrage to us."
The ruling civilian-military junta in El Salvador, which has received substantial backing from the Reagan administration in its fight against leftist guerrillas, issued a formal statement Monday night "deploring" the "unspeakable criminal action" and expressing hopes that the president and three others wounded in the attack would soon recover. One junta member said government officials, "like everyone else" were closely monitoring the situation on shortwave radio.
In Mexico, President Jose Lopez Portillo's immediate response appeared to some Mexican political analysts as a possible oblique reference to his opposition to U.S. policy in El Salvador and the Caribbean basin.
Lopez Portillo told journalists that while he was "shocked by the unexpectedness, the absurdity, the monstrousness" of the attempt, "we have said and now it is proven that violence leads nowhere but only worsens problems."
Despite the adversary relationship the Reagan administration has taken with Moscow, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev wished Reagan "full and early recovery" and expressed "indignation" at the assassination attempt.
But there were no concrete signs that the shooting altered the Kremlin's attitudes toward the Reagan administration. Moscow has combined tough propaganda attacks on expanded U.S. defense spending plans with offers to reopen a dialogue "at all levels."
The convalescence ahead for the president and the sure slowdown of foreign polichy formulation mean only further delays in a full American response to Brezhnev's proposals for reopening bilateral contacts on arms control and other major issues. Although Reagan virtually had ruled out the early summit that Brezhev proposed, the president's recuperation must dash any lingering Soviet hopes for a breakthrough.
At the same time, a likely closing of ranks by Western allies because of the shooting carries the probability of a distinct slowdown in dealing with recent, intensive Soviet efforts to reopen the NATO decision for new nuclear rockets and missiles to bolster Western strength in the face of growing Soviet tactical nuclear forces. Moscow has been pressing hard in the past month for a freeze on deployment combined with negotiations for reduction on both sides.
The influential French paper Le Monde indicated some of the same fears for carrying on allied business in its account yesterday. Since Reagan, already known there as a nine-to-five president, had put his team in place with unsusual slowness, Le Monde said it hoped that his convalescence does not rob the United States of needed presidential leadership.
Le Monde deplored the violence in American society with a front-page editorial saying, "It is not astonishing that history should be at the mercy of accidents of the kind that Mr. Reagan has just escaped in a country where anyone can buy without formalities the weapon of his choice and where a powerful lobby that guards a fluorishing trade appeal directly to trigger-happy crazies in a climate of violence and insecurity."
Although Chinese officials refrained from public comment, some also said the shooting is an example of how endemic violence is in the U.S. political system.
The Johannesburg Star in South Africa, however, offered three explanations of "why these apparently senseless murders [are] committed more often in the U.S. than in any other civilized country."
"First the office of president is more personalized in the mania for handguns. . . . It is the obsession with handguns and the political lobby that protects them that jeopardizes every public figures's life, that marks him as a target for the deranged."
Even in Argentina, which has a history of political violence that disrupted relations with the United States during the Carter administration, the attack prompted a discussion of U.S. violence.
American television footage of the attack reached Buenos Aires television Monday night, and they showed over and over again the clip of Reagan wincing and bending over. The program's commentator said twice that he had great respect for the United States, that is was a very great country of high political sophistication.
"But we don't kill our president," he said.
"Right," a highly unmoved Argentine who was watching replied. "They kill us."