Canadian caper

Canada may have incurred the wrath of Sadeq Ghotbzadeh, but it has won new smiles from the United States of America.The reason, of course, is Canada's star role in engineering that great escape of Americans from Iran. Suddenly there was a dramatic, even melodramatic reminder of the fact that the American people still do have more than fair-weathered friends in the world.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ghotbzadeh all too predictably reacted with warnings that somewhere, somehow Canada would suffer for the deed -- and that any retaliatory measures against the American hostages would be on Canada's head. But Iran's hostage-holding already looks so bad in international eyes that it must calculate its response to the escape very carefully if it hopes to gain international support for airing its manifest grievances under the Shah -- and to earn its way back to diplomatic respectability after the illegality of its present position. Even among the Iranians' fellow Muslims at the Islamabad conference (see editorial below), there was reportedly considerable sentiment for releasing the hostages.

The Americans who escaped were not among the hostages. They were US Embassy personnel who were not captured and who had been hiding out for all these weeks. Now it becomes clear why the US State Department refused to publicize a list of presumed hostages. It also becomes clear that secrets can be kept.

The Canadian decision to close its embassy temporarily -- and get the Americans out of Iran in the guise of Canadians -- was apparently due to a belief that the presence of the Americans could not be effectively concealed indefinetely. The CIA is said to have helped out in preparing false documents. The whole clandestine operation has become a domestic political issue in Canada.

We hope Canadians rally to their government in this fundamentally humanitarian episode. It wasn't the kind of criminal caper Hollywood usually glorifies or the kind of jaunty caper brought to mind when Lawrence Welk plays "Canadian Capers." It was a new sort of Canadian caper, and one to be saluted.

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