Normally pro-West Arab governments that play key roles in the Middle East today joined radical states in condemning the U.S. raid on Libya.
That such key American regional allies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia spoke out promptly, along with traditionally hostile Iran and Syria, marked a major step in moderate Arabs' distancing themselves from the Reagan administration and a further indication of waning U.S. influence in the Middle East, according to western and Arab diplomats.
Chadli Klibi, secretary general of the 21-member Arab League, set the tone by arguing that the "unprecedented" raid "compromises, perhaps irreversibly, [Washington's] relations with Arab peoples."
The diplomats predicted that the raid would not deter the radical policies of Iran and Syria, generally considered more deeply involved in terrorism than is Libya.
A Syrian spokesman pledged his country "stands by Libya with all its strength and capabilities." Unlike Libya, Syria has a defense treaty with Moscow and, as a heavily armed state bordering Israel, is considered a more formidable opponent than Muammar Qaddafi's underpopulated country.
A defiant Iranian President Ali Khamenei warned that the attack against Libya was considered "an attack against all Moslems, and as a result U.S. interests are not in safety in the Islamic world."
All three radical regimes may emerge from the raid at least temporarily strengthened, the diplomats said.
Other, moderate Arab states with close ties to the United States reacted with caution. Morocco and Tunisia, for example, had made no official comment more than 18 hours after the raid. Illustrative of Tunisian embarrassment was the official radio's strictly factual account of the raid, which quoted both Washington's and Tripoli's versions.
But western and Arab diplomats suggested theirs was an embarrassed silence reflecting reluctance to be seen supporting Qaddafi while acknowledging that their citizens condemn the United States for picking on a small, Arab country no matter how distasteful its leader.
The Egyptian government deplored the U.S. attack, but many Egyptians privately expressed sympathy for the strike. A government statement issued after an urgent two-hour Cabinet meeting headed by President Hosni Mubarak said that "use of force in any form cannot solve international problems and does not help in easing world tension."
The government statement said that "Egypt received the reports of the attack, which resulted in the death of innocent Libyan brothers, with anxiety and deep concern."
Saudi Arabia said the attack "ran counter to all international norms dealing with such issues," The Associated Press reported.
Increasingly, since the United States and Libya started on a collision course earlier this year, moderate Arab governments have persuaded themselves that U.S. policy toward Qaddafi is motivated principally by domestic political considerations, diplomats said.
Unable or unwilling to overthrow Qaddafi, the United States is seen, according to the diplomats, as a dangerous ally for many moderate states. They fear that they may become the principal targets for more of the terrorism President Reagan insists his raid aimed to combat.
"The United States is seen as another -- but more powerful -- Israel, more interested in carrying out punitive raids to satisfy its home opinion than in solving basic Mideast problems," a western ambassador said.
"Since George Shultz became secretary of state during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982," a western diplomat remarked, "the United States has failed to understand that in many Arab eyes Washington is seen as increasingly pro-Israeli."
Mohammed Khateib, information minister of moderate Jordan, underscored fears aroused by the raid, which he said "may lead to more dangerous results."
Mohammed Kamal, Jordanian ambassador to the United States, said at a press luncheon in Washington that "as an Arab state and a member of the Arab League, we have in principle to condemn any attack on any Arab country coming from any source." But Kamal also was critical of the Arab world for its inability to agree on a way to curb terrorism. "The United States would not have attacked today," he said, if the Arab states had been able to "work together to resolve this."
In the Syrian capital of Damascus, radical Palestinian groups warned of further violence against American and British nationals and interests.
"We must say all U.S. and British interests are hostile targets for us inside and outside the Arab world," said a communique issued by a pro-Syrian Palestinian faction headed by Abu Musa, who broke with Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In a statement delivered to a Beirut-based foreign news agency, Abu Nidal's Fatah Revolutionary Council, warned of attacks against American interests. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist operations and was linked to attacks at airports in Rome and Vienna last December.
In response to this "recurrent and continuous aggression, we assert together with a number of Palestinian, Arab and world revolutionary forces, that we will answer back harshly in pursuing and striking against American institutions and interests and all forms of aggressive American presence in our countries and the world," the typewritten declaration said.
Officials at Arab League headquarters here said that they had invited defense and foreign ministers to hear Libya's urgent demands for anti-U.S. sanctions in the wake of the raid.
At the meeting, expected to be held by the end of the week, Libya is likely to invoke the League's 35-year-old mutual defense clause. It theoretically binds all members to provide military support for any signatory who comes under attack, but the clause has never been implemented.
It was expected that Libya would demand breaking diplomatic relations, withdrawing funds from American banks, freezing U.S. assets in Arab countries and an oil embargo against the United States. The same demands were rejected by the league at two meetings in earlier stages of the crisis between Tripoli and Washington.
In New Delhi, the Nonaligned Movement condemned the strike, calling it "unjustifiable," AP reported, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said that Peking opposed "encroachment upon the territory of a sovereign state under the pretext of striking terrorism."
Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo said he was "dismayed and distressed by the bombinhg raids carried out by U.S. aircraft against targets in Libya, a brotherly Islamic state."