The official Libyan news media today described President Reagan's call for an international boycott of Col. Muammar Qaddafi's government as "tantamount politically to a declaration of war," but gave no indication that Libya plans reprisals.
Reflecting what appears to be growing confidence in government circles here that Europe will ignore the boycott and the Arab world will stand behind Qaddafi in the face of American threats, Tripoli radio said "Reagan may know what he wants, which is to strike Libya," but "what matters is the end result, which is certainly not subject to the will of the U.S. president."
Tonight Qaddafi summoned western ambassadors here to his headquarters. According to Libyan television, he emphasized the "common interests" shared by Europe and Libya.
Diplomatic sources said that Qaddafi, in an apparent effort to consolidate the European support that he has so far, offered to return to Europe any fugitive terrorists found in Libya if the European countries would hand over to him Libyan dissidents wanted here for terrorist acts.
While repeating that he was not responsible for terrorist acts carried out by Palestinians, Qaddafi said, according to the diplomats, he would be willing to urge the Palestinians to concentrate their attacks on the "occupied territory," clearly a reference to Israel.
Italy and West Germany are Libya's leading trading partners, and most European nations have extensive commerce with Qaddafi's government. Even Britain, which broke diplomatic relations in 1984, has trade amounting to more than $20 million a month, according to diplomats.
"These are figures that have a certain value," one European envoy said. "We have good business here."
The Libyans also professed confidence that few of the Americans working here -- whose numbers are estimated at between 600 and 2,000 -- would heed Reagan's demand for them to return home immediately or face possible prosecution.
"They are well aware from having worked there for years that Libya is different from the way Reagan tries to portray it, so they will be the first to see through the lies and allegations of their president," Tripoli radio said.
But American workers interviewed today, while clearly angry in many cases about the unwanted upheaval in their normally quiet lives, appeared uncertain about their next move.
"No one wants to face criminal charges," said one American who has lived here for more than a decade. "But it's a hell of a way for the U.S. government to treat U.S. citizens."
Americans employed by Libya's National Oil Co. are paid, on the average, close to $100,000 tax-free a year and get free housing, according to one U.S. citizen who asked not to be identified.
Skender Brame, the American recreational director at the Oil Companies School, said he, his wife and their 13-year-old son, who was born here, have decided to leave.
"Americans here don't want to break any laws. They're probably more patriotic than the average American," Brame said. By working at a school that openly displays the American way of life -- including little-league baseball -- to children from 52 nations, he said, "we felt we were presenting a good image of America."
But while disturbed at the prospect of having to relocate so suddenly, Brame and his family appeared resigned and ready for their departure. Brame's son said he was looking forward to it.
Other Americans are looking at the likelihood that their dreams -- or simply steady jobs -- will vanish if they leave now.
"Some people have no other chance," one recently arrived Texas oil man said yesterday evening before Reagan's press conference, "so they're going to stay here and stick it out."
Many are older men who already have had difficulties getting jobs in the United States.
"To penalize the 1,500 persons who are trying to earn a living just doesn't seem compatible with the situation," one said.
A few said they felt they were being made scapegoats by a U.S. administration that is unable to persuade its allies in Europe or the Arab world to support it in its moves against Qaddafi.
They noted that several major American oil companies have continued to operate here through foreign subsidiaries despite earlier administration calls for them to pull out. The employes said they believe the companies will continue to do so now, with or without American workers.
"The whole thing is just so hypocritical," one said. "They're still pumping oil and making millions of dollars."
Most of the Americans questioned by reporters refused to be quoted by name if they agreed to talk at all.
"We're afraid to comment anymore," said one man who was interviewed on television after Reagan first ordered Americans to leave here in December 1981. "There are so many ways you can be got at other than being arrested. You know, audits and things."
He said his taxes have been reviewed twice by the Internal Revenue Service in recent years.
Although some estimates of the number of Americans here suggest there are as many now as in 1981 -- about 1,500 -- a tour of the Oil Companies School suggests how much even the original ban affected life here for them, if not for Qaddafi.
Before 1982 there were about 80 American teachers and staff. Now there are two. Canadians replaced most of them.
Most of the American men who work in Libya do so, as one put it, "on a commuting basis" to the oil fields in the desert. They spend about a quarter of their time outside the country on regular 10-day leaves. Few are here with their families and only about a dozen of the children at the nine-grade school have U.S. passports. Many of the other children now come from the Soviet Bloc.
Most of the American church leaders also left Libya in 1982.
Longtime residents who stayed said they did so in the belief that their passports gave them a "constitutional right," as one put it, to travel and work where they pleased. But the Supreme Court, in a 1984 decision involving Cuban travel restrictions, held that nothing in the Constitution prevents the president from imposing travel bans in the interests of foreign policy.
Now, although many would like to challenge Reagan's order, few could afford a protracted court battle to do so, they say.
Several stress that politics played no part in their decision to come here and they say they wish politics would leave them alone now.
"You can live an apolitical life here," one American said. "I'd hate to think we're doing anything to support terrorism" -- as Reagan has alleged. "That was far from our objectives," the American worker said. He called the current crisis "a government-to-government problem -- strictly."
Yet as the Reagan administration continues to say that it will not rule out a military attack on Libya, one American resident said he was concerned that "we might be a hindrance to the future development of their policy."
The prospect of Americans here being held hostage in the event of open hostilities is one reason cited by administration officials for not moving against Qaddafi more aggressively.
"If they don't do anything militarily, we're safe," said a worker here who has lived in Tripoli for several years. "That's the only way our safety is jeopardized."
As the quandary within the American community continues, signs of preparation for open conflict here remain subtle and muted.
Today,Libya closed its airspace to foreign airlines briefly several times without explanation. Diplomats said small new antiaircraft missiles have been installed recently around Libya's nuclear research center at Tajura, about 15 miles east of Tripoli.
Yesterday, fighter planes occasionally flew over the harbor. Diplomats said that Libya has called up reserves and told soldiers to stay in their barracks and doctors and nurses to remain in place.