Time out for politics

Three important people are feeling more comfortable about their political foundations this week - and hence in better position to tackle their domestic problems which, in all three cases, are their first concerns this summer.

Yuri Andropov enjoyed what amounts to a Soviet equivalent of Margaret Thatcher's election victory in Britain. He had his first formal plenum since settling in to the job of top man in the Kremlin. It went off splendidly for Mr. Andropov. He was center stage. The only other person whom speculation has billed as a conceivable rival, Konstantin Chernenko, made a supporting speech.

If there is any opposition to Mr. Andropov, it failed to show up during the plenum.

Mrs. Thatcher in London could remake her cabinet, as she did, and launch forth on a renewed campaign to try to make British industry more efficient and effective.

And as for the United States' Ronald Reagan: His equivalent of Mrs. Thatcher's election victory and Mr. Andropov's smoothly managed plenum is evidence of continued strength in the American economy.

With motor car sales well up, the stock market apparently reaching for new record highs, and Paul Volcker apparently headed for a second term at the top of the Federal Reserve, Mr. Reagan could play the statesman host to Australia's visiting prime minister, Robert Hawke, and then take off for a five-day politicking tour which leaves no one in serious doubt about his 1984 intentions.

If Mr. Reagan has a political cloud on his horizon, it is small and still a long way off. It is named John Glenn. It was a little more visible this past week simply because Sen. Alan Cranston of California had taken a round from former Vice-President Walter Mondale in a straw vote among Democrats in Wisconsin.

Senator Glenn of Ohio is generally regarded among political observers as the Democratic candidate who would probably run stronger against Mr. Reagan than any other in next year's presidential race. But before he can run against Mr. Reagan , he must first get the Democratic nomination. Mr. Mondale has the inside position for that.

Mr. Mondale was weakened as a candidate when he lost a round to Senator Cranston. It was not an important round. The margin of Mondale loss was only 36 percent to 39 percent. But at this early stage of the presidential race, momentum is essential to the man supposedly in the lead. For Mondale to falter now helps, not Senator Cranston, but Senator Glenn.

Foreigners watching US politics should know two things about the US political scene. First, Mr. Reagan's decision to run for a second term is as near a sure thing as ever occurs in politics. Second, the most plausible opponent is Sen. John Glenn, who stands on the right side of the Democratic Party.

Foreign affairs this past week seemed to be on the back burner for all three of these leaders who have just had their political mandates renewed.

Mr. Reagan appears determined to push ahead with his campaign to defeat the leftist insurgency in El Salvador and to sustain the rightists' insurgency in Nicaragua. But that has become a routine part of the Washington scenery. The news is simply that Congress, while doubting the wisdom, is not willing to block the funds. Mr. Reagan will continue with his Central American strategy.

The initiative in the Middle East is there in the Middle East, not in Washington. The Lebanese and Syrians were talking privately together about possible ways of bringing Syria into a general restabilizing of relations among Lebanon, Syria, and Israel.

Messrs. Reagan and Andropov continue to talk about the possibility of a summit meeting, but are they in agreement about the time?

Mr. Reagan would love to have a much publicized summit, provided it would be to his political advantage at home. The closer it is to his election day next year, the better for him. Besides, he may have more bargaining chips in his hand a year from now than he does today.

But those are precisely the reasons why Mr. Andropov would prefer to have it sooner, rather than a year from now. With such divergent interests involved it will not be easy to reach agreement on time and place.

From Mr. Reagan's point of view, an ideal summit would come after he has deployed the new nuclear missiles in Europe and achieved success for his friends in both El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Under those circumstances he could bargain over arms control arrangements and hope to come out with something which could be presented to American voters as a plus for arms control and a safer world. He could also offer to ease up on Nicaragua and Cuba if in return Mr. Andropov would ease up on Afghanistan.

There would indeed be a diplomatic triumph for Mr. Reagan if he obtained from Mr. Andropov a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Politicians are entitled to dreams like that.

Meanwhile, we can only watch and hope that Pope John Paul II's second return to his Polish homeland will make life better, not worse, for the Polish people.

The visit is a complex of historic inevitabilities. He had to go because he is not only the true religious leader of the Polish people, but also their last best political hope for improvement in their lot. The overwhelming majority of the Polish people could never understand it if he failed to make the trip. They need him.

The Polish government obviously wishes it could have forbidden the visit. Yet to do so would have alienated the people.

It could have meant uncontrollable riots. It could undermine any chance for cooperation between people and government in the economic revival of the country. It could lead to such a loss of government control that the Soviets would send in their own troops.

The Pope's task in the visit is to give hope and comfort to the people and at the same time dissuade them from such actions as would trigger a direct Soviet invasion.

The task is heroic. To fulfill the task the man must be both saintly and heroic. It is a hard role for any Pope.

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