International reaction to Reagan: prayers, admiration -- and relief
London — Prayers. Sympathy. Admiration. Relief. Head-shaking puzzlement. And some deeper thoughts on the nature of violence and how it is an international, and not just an American problem.
This was how West Europeans reacted as President Reagan recovered from the March 30 attempt on his life.
East Europeans, too, responded in their own ways. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sent a telegram wishing Mr. Reagan a "full and speedy recovery." Hungarian and Czech newspaper readers were able to scan brief accounts March 31.
The Soviets may try to make some propaganda capital out of the attack later, painting the US as wracked with violence and crime. But Mr. Brezhnev himself heard gunfire aimed at his motorcade when he drove into the Kremlin with Soviet cosmonauts in January 1969. The assailant was caught at once. Criminals use guns in the Soviet Union, too, though this is rarely reported in the Soviet press.
Running through West European reaction were sympathy for Mr. Reagan and his family; admiration for his poise, humor, and bravery; and a degree of incredulity that American laws still permitted 50 million handguns to circulate far more easily than they do in Europe.
"It's time the wild west was over," commented one London woman to this correspondent -- a woman with deep respect for the US. "I mean, really, it's time to give up the guns and pass some laws."
Prayers for Mr. Reagan opened an international conference in London on human values. Then Prince Philip made a scheduled address in which he said today's crime and aggression would be familiar to someone from the Dark Ages.
Earlier, his wife, Queen Elizabeth had sent a message to Mr. Reagan saying she had been "very shocked" at the news of the shooting. She hoped he and his staff made a speedy recovery.
BBC radio morning news carried items and interviews criticizing the Secret Service for what many British television viewers saw as panic immediately after the shots were fired.
Many speculated that at last Mr. Reagan might end his personal opposition to gun control and push new laws through a Congress made receptive by the event. But few were optimistic: "America is a violent country and that seems to be that ," said one Londoner with a perplexed frown.
In Paris, French television broke precedent and stayed open until 1 a.m. March 31. A senior French journalist told this correspondent by telephone: "Reagan handled himself so well, making jokes and keeping calm.
"And you know, the French government is relieved. It appreciates Reagan after four years of [a] disappointing Jimmy Carter. At last an American leader is decisive and seems to know what he wants and where he's going. Thank heavens Mr. Reagan recovered. . . . No one here knows [George] Bush. Who is Bush?"
The senior journalist in Paris added: "But there isn't much criticism of the American system here. Reagan comes out of this very well: a man who is physically strong."
West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is reported to have telephoned the White House at once. He had talked to Mr. Reagan by phone just before the shooting.
Thoughtful Germans realize their own country has seen considerable violence in recent years, and recognize that lawlessness is not confined to any one nation.
Spain's King Juan Carlos sent a telegram to Mr. Reagan making the same point: The shooting, the King said, "unfortunately proves terrorist violence is today generalized."
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Pedro Perez Llorca told Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. that the world itself was suffering from a "terrorist scourge."
From Scandinavia, government leaders spoke of an example of meaningless violence. Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky said the shooting showed "how terribly unstable the political world is."
Pope John Paul II in the Vatican prayed for Mr. Reagan and told the President in a telegram: "I join in denouncing all manifestations of violence and terrorism and every act that violates human dignity in any individual."
From Brussels, leaders of both the European Community and NATO sent telegrams to Mr. Reagan hoping for his quick recovery. Officials there have been studying the President carefully for clues to US policy toward Moscow, arms control, and Western Europe.