Some rays of light are apparent for President Carter in his get- tough policy with friend and foe on the frustrating issues of Iran and Afghanistan. But it still remains to be seen whether this is "a cruelly false dawn" -- to borrow a phrase from the current issue of the London weekly, the Economist.
The rays of light are these:
* From Iran, a gathering momentum in the threatened showdown between religious fundamentalists and the left. This, of course, carries with it great risks -- not least for the 53 US hostages; but out of it could come a completely changed situation within Iran.
* From Luxembourg, an emerging consensus from the nine European Community foreign ministers and the foreign minister of Japan for initiating a sanction plan in support of American pressure on Iran.
* From Lausanne, Switzerland, where the International Olympic Committee is meeting, a parallel emerging pattern among the European allies of the United States for seriously considering boycotting the Moscow Olympics in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Of all these developments, the sharpening battle in Iran between the religious fundamentalists and the left is the most portentous.
Violence between the two forces on university campuses in Iran has continued despite appeals from President Bani-Sadr for an end to it. At least three people have been killed and hundreds have been hurt.
Simultaneously, there has been an upsurge of violence in northwestern Iran between Kurds and forces of the central government. It may well be part of an overall pattern, with the leftists now egging the long-dissident Kurds on.
President Carter told Walter Cronkite on CBS television April 21 that the political situation in Iran was "volatile." The President added: "I think the structure of the government, the social structure, and the economic structure lately is deteriorating fairly rapidly."
In Tehran, Mr. Bani-Sadr blamed the leftists for the latest violent clashes on university campuses. He said April 22: "If they really wanted the universities open, why did they turn the universities into a front against the nation? We consider these fronts built against the nation to be the fronts of Satan and we will crush them without hesitation."
The violence began late last week, coinciding with an order by the Revolutionary Council in Tehran, dominated by fundamentalists, that "non-Islamic" offices and bookstalls be closed on university campuses.
Two leftist organizations saw this as directed at them. They are: the atheistic and Marxist (although not proven to be under Moscow's discipline) Fedayeen-e Khalq; and the nominally Islamic Marxist Mujahideen-e Khalq. Sometimes rivals, these two groups have drawn closer together because of their common hostility toward government by fundamentalist clerics and because of the fundamentalist clerics' hostility to them.
Since the triumph of the revolution under the patriarchal patronage and leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in February 1979, these two groups have always been the most likely last-ditch challengers to the definitive triumph of religious fundamentalism.
Both initially paid lip-service to Ayatollah Khomeini's leadership. But from the outset they resented their exclusion from positions of influence or control in the revolution by a leader who had led from afar -- first in exile in Iraq and latterly in France.
They felt their credentials were every bit as good: They had fought the Shah during his years of harshest oppression within Iran and, at the time of the monarch's overthrow, had the two best underground armed networks in the land.
Over the past 14 months, the fundamentalists have seen the most effective opposition to them coming from the center (the weaker) and the left (the stronger). Their main thrust was directed first against the center, as the force more easily disposed of.
Using massive street demonstrations, the fundamentalists silenced the center and drove into hiding or exile such potential middle-of-the-road lay republicans as lawyer Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari and former oil chief Hassan Nazih.
Simultaneously, they outmaneuvered but stopped short of forcing a showdown on the left. That appears now to be under way. University campuses were always the strongholds of Iran's most effective new-generation leftists.
Ironically, the role at the moment of the old-time pro-Soviet communists in the Tudeh Party is equivocal. Because it is widely seen as subservient to Moscow, its appeal in recent years has been limited. But to offset this disadvantage, the Tudeh Party's current leader, Nuredeen Kianouri, has been almost sycophantic toward Ayatollah Khomeini.
In an interview last week with the Paris newspaper, Le Monde, Mr. Kianouri seemed to sense what was around the corner -- and was already blaming the US for it. He said: "The Iranian revolution is threatened: American imperialists and Iranian reactionaries are combining their efforts to bring down the republic; formidable trials await us."
Mr. Bani-Sadr also blamed the US, referring to the text of a document put out by his official news agency said to be a memorandum from White House National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on the desirability of encouraging minorities and extremist groups "to provoke armed uprisings against Khomeini's regime."
The Japanese refusal to pay the higher price the Iranians are demanding for their oil adds to the squeeze. The Japanese move shows America's allies willing at last to go beyond rhetoric and gestures in support of US pressure on Iran.
Even more significantly, the foreign ministers of the European Community, meeting in Luxembourg April 22, agreed in principle to join the US in a trade blockade of Iran -- except for food and medicines -- if the hostages are not freed by the end of May.
Details have yet to be worked out. Dutch Foreign Minister Christoph van der Klaauw said the measures would probably be based on the United Nations Security Council resolution (calling for sanctions) blocked by a Soviet veto on Jan. 13.
So the screws are tightening -- but only time will show whether this will pry the hostages free before further worsening of the internal situation in Iran puts them in even graver jeopardy.