Iran, the world is pleased to note, continues to mop up the diplomatic problems spawned by the Islamic revolution. The recent release from prison of US citizen Mohi Sobhani and the imminent flight home (at this writing) of American free-lance journalist Cynthia Dwyer are welcome signs of this. There are others. Four British citizens detained since last August on suspicion of espionage are expected to win their freedom this week. Also, the Iranian authorities have begun swiftly to open the way for settlement of claims brought by American business firms.
It is clear that the Iranian government, pressed by economic difficulties and the added burdens of the Iran-Iraq war, is eager to put its diplomatic house in order. Amid relief and joy at the freeing of other Western captives, the defiant and unlawful actions of the Iranian government should not be forgotten. But it is cause for satisfaction that Iran now appears willing to soft-pedal its revolutionary histrionics and return to civil and lawful international behavior. The delicate task for the United States will be to foster a new relationship with Tehran -- taking care not to be caught unawares in the vortex of further Iranian upheavals but showing a willingness to work out conflicts as a matter of mutual interest. President Reagan set a proper and cautious tone in saying that the recent agreements had to be studied before his administration could say or do much, but that he did not think the idea of revenge on Iran was "worthy" of the United States. Exactly.
Returning to normal in the international arena is not likely to be quick or easy, however. To the surprise of no one who knows the Iranians, the end of the hostage crisis has simply rekindled the simmering struggle for power in Iran. President Bani-Sadr and his fellow moderates now assail the hostage settlement as a sell-out -- not because they genuinely believe it is (they probably are happy Iran is rid of the problem), but because such accusation serves their political purpose of bringing down the fundamentalist clergymen of the Islamic Republican Party who agreed to the settlement. Just as Mr. Bani-Sadr was undercut by the militant clerics, he now seeks to undermine them. The centuries-old pattern of Persian maneuvering goes on.
Where it will all end is difficult to know. The revolution, less than two years old, has yet to run its course and the situation remains fraught with dangers -- economic chaos, ethnic conflicts, political fragmentation, Soviet intervention. But the West might recall that, historical, chaos and confusion have often accompanied deep-seated political change.
Significantly, Iranians themselves are growing disenchanted with the Islamic Republicans. Thousands of citizens turned out recently to demonstrate against the government and were beaten back with tear gas and gunfire. The radical fundamentalists also are losing support among the bazaar merchants, who helped them to power, as well as among other Islamic clergymen. With time, perhaps, the pendulum will swing again and the ferment will bring forth a more centrist government, one better balanced between Iran's secular and religious forces. There are mounting signs that many Iranians, while they detested the Shah, do not want to jettison everything he did or to see Iran fall victim to another, this time clerical, brand of authoritarianism.
In this parlous situation US diplomacy must step carefully. The lessons of the past have yet to be fully understood and absorbed. But surely several principles can be affirmed: that the US cannot sustain a policy which is not sensitive to theattitudes and aspirations of the Iranian people, that it has to be left to the Iranians to work out their own political life, and that cool patience and dignified restraint can be effective tools of diplomacy without the use of military force. With these principles uppermost, it should be possible for the US and Iran to work their way back to normal and even frie ndly ties.