Iran's humane gesture

The release of ailing hostage Richard Queen at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini provides welcome evidence that the Iranian government, despite its illegal eight-month seizure of the US embassy and ctoninuing vituperative anti-American rhetoric, is capable of demonstrating the mercy and humanitarian concern the world would normally expect of a religious based regime. Iran's fundamentalists at this time apparently have no plan to extend their compassion to the other 52 hostages and their suffering families. But the freeing of vice consul Queen provides some reason to hope that continued US restraint will pay off eventually in the safe return of all the hostages. At the very least, the Iranians' apparent concern for Mr. Queenhs well-being seems to imply that the the captors are not totally insensitive to the health and welfare needs of the other hostages.

Another cause for hope is that disenchantment with the hostage-holding appears to be growing in Iran with the passage of time. Increasingly voices in and out of government in Tehran have questioned the advisability of sticking with what surely must be recognized, sooner or later, as a futile policy. The Shah is no closer to being returned. President Bani- Sadr says US economic sanctions are beginning to pinch. Iran's breach of international law continues to draw worldwide condemnation. The propaganda pay-off of holding a superpower hostage is rapidly vanishing with the US determination to remain quiet and wait out the crisis.

If more Iranians would only look realistically at the failures of current policy, the freeing of Mr. Queen could herald the beginning of the end of the hostage crisis. One humanitarian gesture might very well lead to another. The prayers of many Americans will be that Iranian hearts do not remain hardened.

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