Patience on Iran -- still

Only a few short days ago the American media were buoyantly speculating on a possible early freeing of the US hostages in Iran. Now, with a flurry of contradictory signals emanating from Tehran, the pendulum seems to be swinging once again toward the side of gloom. We hope the press and the public heed President Carter's call for temperate approach of holding to a steady course and not falling prey to extremes of pessimism or optimism. They have his timely reminder that a peaceful resolution of the problem continues to require perseverance and his assurances that "progress is being made."

More diplomatic Zigs and Zags, ups and downs, can be expected in the period ahead. But at the moment we see these factors as militating for an eventual favorable outcome of the crisis:

* A United Nations commission of inquiry has begun its work, and the results presumably will satisfy Iran's demands that its case against the Shag be heard. Secretary surrounds the arrangements that led to formation of the commission. But it seems clear from the statements of some of the commission members that its mandate does indeed bear some relation to ultimate release of the hostages. Certainly if its work does not bring corresponding gestures from the Iranian side, the commission could stretch out its investigation until reciprocity is assured. Without placing too much weight on it, we nonetheless also take note of the statement by Iran's ambassador to the UN that the end of the crisis is now "in sight for the first time."

* President Bani-Sadr, who is seeking a way out of the impasse, appears to be strengthening and consolidating his authority and doing wo with the support of the Ayatollah Khomeini. It is against the backdrop of this still unsettled contest for political power that the contradictory pronouncemens issuing from Iran must in fact be seen.

The ayatollah's harsh words on the eve of the commission's arrival in Tehran could well have been meant to placate the militant captors, who will have to be tactfully persuaded to give up their captives. His statemen that a decision on the hostages would have to be made by a new Parliament to be elected in March and April is a disappointing development for the US. But it is significant that he left it to the Parliament to decide what the conditions for release of the hostages would be, thereby indicating the Americans could be set free without extradition of the Shah. In any case, the Iranian religious leader has now set a definite time to frame and a specific authority for resolving the problem and that in itself could be a positive development.

* The serious diplomatic effort to resolve the conflict began to take shape after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. There is little doubt that the presence of the Russians on IRan's border is largely behind the momentum now in the direction of a solution. The longer the hostage crisis persist, the longer Iran's internal political turmoil goes on, the greater Iran's vulnerability and the danger of Soviet penetration and mischiefmaking.

This is not to close one's eyes to the perils and risks of the current UN initiative or the uncertainties and enigmas of Iranian politics. The crisis appears far from over -- the issue of a US "apology" for its support of the Shah is but one of the sensitive elements to be resolved. But there is decided diplomatic movement as well as change in the domestic IRanian political scene. These must be given a chance to play themselves out, and therefore impatient Republican or other calls for setting a "deadline" are not helpful. The patient , persevering diplomacy MR. Carter urges remains the best course of action.

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