Applauding the Algerians

One of the most moving scenes in the return of the American hostages came at the airport in Algiers when Foreign Minister Ben Yahia said to Deputy Secretary of State Christopher: "I am delivering your citizens to you." It not only was the literal moment of deliverance, it also epitomized the extraordinary cooperation possible -- when the cause is just -- even if nations are in many ways poles apart. Jimmy Carter spoke no more than the truth when he called the Algerians "real heroes" for working day and night as intermediaries between Washington and Tehran.

Algeria and the United States themselves had no diplomatic relations for some seven years after the 1967 Mideast war. Economic as well as diplomatic ties have grown since then, as New Englanders have just had reason to know when a natural gas shortage was attributed in part to a storm in Algeria interrupting gas shipments from there. After last year's disastrous earthquake, Algerians can hardly have failed to notice that the US, with its quick and generous efforts to help, contrasted favorably with socialist Algeria's presumable sympathizers in the East bloc.

Now Algeria is analyzed as hoping for American favor for its role in freeing the hostages -- and it certainly has provided an atmosphere for the expression of American gratitude. Yet it has simply been acting, though well beyond the call of duty, according to the essence of that constructive "non- alignment" it proclaims. Foreign Minister Ben Yahia stressed Algeria's special ties with ist fellow Muslim nation of Iran. These made it an especially helpful partner for the US, even as they were not permitted to override the nonaligned role of honest broker -- or the professional diplomatic skill and courage so warmly praised by Mr. Christohper.

To look at these Algerians and the Americans freed through their good offices was to see them giving new meaning to the goal of Algeria-born Nobel prize-winner Albert Camus -- "not add to the unbearable misery of the world, but rather . . . indicate in the dark walls against which we grope, the yet invisible places where the gates may open." Like him, the world has once more found "in the midst of winter . . . an invincible summer."

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