Hostage politicking

How unseemly to behold the US hostage issue becoming embroiled in election politics. With the issue reaching a critical new juncture, this is not the time for either major candidate to try to exploit it for political gain. It ism a time for the President to maintain a dignified, correct, restrained stance. It is a time for Ronald Reagan to refrain from provocative comment. The national interest demands a bipartisan course. The two men, if they are statesmen and if they genuinely have the interests of the hostages at heart, will do nothing to depart from that course.

For the most part the Carter administration has been cautious in its public statements since the Iran-Iraq war pushed the hostage question onto center stage once again. But now the rhetoric, under the pressure of the campaign, is escalating. Mr. Reagan has not resisted the temptation to call the Americans' long captivity a national "humiliation and a disgrace." What, it may be asked, does he advocate doing? Mr. Carter, for his part, lit into Mr. Reagan for playing politics on an issue which he himself obviously seeks to turn to his political advantage on election day.

The larger concern now is to try to stop the war in the Gulf and not do anything which could widen the conflict or seem to align the US with Iran, a move that could drive Iraq and the USSR closer together. Resuming the supply of US military spare parts to Iran is therefore a delicate matter which should not be dealt with in the heat of the campaign, as Mr. Carter seems willing to do. It must be looked at beyond the fact of the return of the hostages -- bearing in mind its implications for US ties with Iraq as well as Iran.

Washington, in short, had best be careful about the kind of bargain it strikes. And, at a time of fighting in the Middle East and emotionally charged political battle at home, the less said by the US publicly the better. This may go against Mr. Carter's feisty political instincts and strain his patience to the extreme. But we have no doubt that he would benefit from acting statesmanlike and presidential. Certainly the hostages would.

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