Britain to the rescue

Three cheers for the British commandos and policemen who stormed the Iranian Embassy in London and rescued 19 hostages. Once negotiation broke down and the gunmen holding the embassy began shooting the hostages, the British government had no choice but to put its antiterrorist unit into action. The operation was swift and successful, with no further loss of life to the hostages. The world can once again be grateful for a nation's determination to stand up to such flagrant and dangerous terrorism. All countries gain by Britain's defense of the Universal principle of an embassy's right of inviolability.

The obvious irony in all this is that the present most egregious violator of that right, Iran, was itself the target of violence. Compounding the irony, the Iranian government refused the demands made by the captors of Iranian citizens even though it expects the United States to bow to its demands in the case of the American prisoners in Iran. There is no hiding the double standard or even, some would say, the hypocrisy of Iran's position. The interesting thing is that Iranian officials themselves concede the doble standard. Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mansour Farhang, for instance, acknowledged in an American television interview recently that seizure of embassies and hostages is unequivocally a breach of international law. Iran regards it as such.

the point the ambassador made, however -- and one which the American people may have to understand better if theirm hostage crisis is to be resolved -- is that Iranians do not regard the confrontation with the US as a matter of law or violation of law, but as a matter of "historical justice." Their concern is with past US actions in Iran which have never been subject to adjudication but which, combined with such acts as the admission of the Shah to the US and the recent raid in Iran, feed suspicion that the United States has not abandoned its course of interfering in Iranian affairs -- a course which, in their eyes, has caused deep moral, political, and economic injury to the Iranian people. This sense of injustice, Dr. Farhang implied, can only be rectified by a US willingness to confront the issue in Iranian terms.

This view may be challenged, perhaps, but it helps explain in part why the crisis lingers after so many wearying months. The triumphant British action in London should not feed Americans' frustration over the failure of their own hostage-rescue attempt. The two situations are patently different. There are times when the use of force is proper and feasible, and times when it is not. Even while nations applaud the British venture, therefore, they can only be relieved if the US government and people refocus their attention on a peaceful, diplomatic solution of the Tehran deadlock. And this time around it is just possible that a more thoughtful, sensitive US response to Iran's fears and grievances will have a better chance of success.

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