CAIRO — The leaders of Egypt and Jordan, two of the most important U.S. allies in the Middle East, warned the Reagan Administration on Sunday that its credibility in the Arab world has been harmed by its covert supply of arms to Iran.
Commenting publicly on the controversy for the first time, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he found the still-unfolding reports about the arms shipments to Iran "astonishing."
The president spoke to reporters at the close of two days of talks with Jordan's King Hussein, who had already characterized the Reagan Administration's secret dealings with Iran as "incomprehensible" and "an insult to all Arabs."
Mubarak, whose nearly bankrupt government is in the middle of sensitive negotiations with Washington over the refinancing of $4.5 billion in back military debt, was more restrained.
"It is very astonishing to hear about this story," he said, adding that he has warned President Reagan that the United States is in danger of losing its credibility among Arabs unless it takes quick remedial action in the wake of the Iran arms disclosures.
Mubarak did not say what he hopes the United States will do to restore credibility, which had already been frayed by a series of actions that, in the apparent absence of a coherent policy toward the Middle East, have been construed as anti-Arab.
However, senior Egyptian officials have repeatedly urged the Reagan Administration to become more involved in the floundering Middle East peace process.
The last development of any consequence in that process occurred in September when Shimon Peres, who was then Israel's prime minister, reached an agreement in principle with Mubarak to work out the framework for an eventual Middle East peace conference. The agreement appears to have evaporated, however, since Peres was succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir, leader of Israel's hard-line Likud Bloc.
Agrees With Mubarak
Hussein, agreeing with Mubarak that the United States should "amend its position before it loses credibility," added that "I personally am perplexed for my failure to understand the American logic" behind supporting Iran.
Mubarak said he and Hussein affirmed their belief that an international conference attended by "all the parties concerned" is the only viable way to seek settlement of the Palestinian problem and bring peace to the Middle East. He added that they discussed the Middle East question and preparations for an Islamic summit in January.
However, in the brief session with reporters, the focus of attention remained on the U.S. arms sales.
Disputing Reagan's contention that his attempts to establish a dialogue with Iranian moderates by authorizing the covert shipment of arms would help end the bitter six-year-old war between Iran and Iraq, Hussein declared that "what happened will not help end the war but will escalate it to an extent that it will threaten not only Iraq but the entire Arab world."
Both Jordan and Egypt have supported Iraq in the Persian Gulf War because they see it as a barrier against the spread of militant Islamic fundamentalism from non-Arab Iran to their own countries.