Diplomatic ferment

Diplomatic logjam has begun to give way to diplomatic ferment. Sensitive response by all parties is needed to ease the Afghanistan and Iran crises by following up on what has been happening in Europe.

Of central importance is the manifestation of European concern for progress coming at the same time as United States and Soviet exploratory moves. No one said it would be easy. Last week's 25th anniversary of Austrian independence and neutrality under a post-World War II East-West treaty was a reminder of all the years and meetings (260 on the deputy foreign minister level alone) that an agreement can take, especially when Moscow wants to use delaying tactics.

But, with world obloquy focused on the Afghanistan invasion, it would be in Moscow's international interest not to prolong the present situation. The not unexpected "peace offensive," orchestrated from Warsaw to Kabul, may be greeted cynically and should be greeted warily. But at the same time the talking out of differences cannot be put on hold until demands are met in advance. It is shortsighted to read the visit of French President Giscard d'Estaing with Soviet leader Brezhnev -- the first by a Western head of state in the five months of Afghanistan occupation -- as a "victory" for the Kremlin. It can be instead a victory for the peace process if it helps to keep the East-West lines of communication open.

By the same token, it was constructive for US Secretary of State Muskie to do what his predecessor, Cyrus Vance, had hoped to do: meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko in Vienna during the anniversary celebrations. Mr. Gromyko may not have liked Mr. Muskie's pointed allusions in his public remarks, but the foreign minister would hardly let them affect the substance of discussions in which both sides might otherwise have something to gain. We ourselves question whether Mr. Muskie sometimes comes on too strong in apparently trying to show his toughness. Yet he made a telling reference when he said:

"The principles of neutrality, of independence and territorial integrity so respected in the case of Austria are today being violated." And: "Today we are faced again with a vital lesson from the past: An act of aggression anywhere threatens security everywhere."

North Atlantic Treaty allies in effect endorsed such a position last week in Brussels when they condemned the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and called for immediate withdrawal. Such backing aids any Western voice in the talking with the Soviets that is necessary to provide some means for a superpower to work its way back toward acceptance if not respectability on the world scene. Some see down the way the possibility for broadening the easing of tensions by both superpowers getting together through such channels for peace as aiding the developing countries in a manner not requiring the choosing up of sides.

On the matter of Iran, the latest European steps -- limited economic sanctions -- fell substantially short of what the US had requested and what would have been accepted by the United Nations Security Council if not vetoed by the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Europeans realistically question whether sanctions of any magnitude would be more helpful than harmful in persuading the Iranians to release the American hostages. The sanctions are plainly more harmful economically to the Europeans than to Iran.

Yet it can be argued that, effective or not, some economic gestures are necessary -- like the Olympic boycott -- simply because doing business totally as usual with a violator of international law cannot be morally justified. Also , the Europeans apparently felt it was important to show some "solidarity" with their transatlantic ally.

All of which, as we did at the beginning, adds up to something happening on a diplomatic front that had seemed virtually frozen -- something to be built on with the firm and thoughtful resolve that has brought previous crises under control.

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