United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim has launched a new effort to resolve the United States hostage crisis in Iran by diplomatic means. It is considered unlikely to lead the liberation of the 53 hostages in coming days or even weeks. It does, however, reopen a much-needed channel of communication between Washington and Tehran, and could under favorable circumstances, help bring about a peaceful solution to the crisis sometime in the future.
Mainly, the waldheim effort presents the American government with an alternative to military moves.
The secretary-general has decided to send a high-ranking Syrian official, Addib Daoudy, to Tehran sometime this week to resume contact with the Iranian authorities. Mr. Daoudy is a member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry that was unable to fulfill its earlier mandate in Tehran and decided to leave Iran on March 12.
During his visit he will discuss the resumption of the work of the UN commission and try to pave the way for its return to Tehran.
Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie and Iran's Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh, as well as Iran's Prime Minister Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, approved the new exploratory mission. Behind the scenes, France and Syria, separately, have been very active these past few weeks in trying to bring about a new diplomatic effort by the United Nations.
Mr. Waldheim's initiative was preceded by a flurry of diplomatic activity centered around the hostage crisis. Of particular significance, according to well-placed analyst here, were:
* Mr. Ghotbzadeh's talks with Syria's minister of foreign affairs in Damascus three weeks ago.
* The Yugoslav foreign minister's talks with Mr. Ghotbzadeh.
* Mr. Waldheim's talks with Mr. Ghotbzadeh in Belgrade on May 8.
* His working lunch with French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing May 14 in Paris.
* His subsequent meeting in Vienna with French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Francois-Poncet.
* His phone conversation with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
* Finally, Mr. Waldheim's two discussions with Secretary of State Muskie in Vienna May 15 and 16.
For weeks Syria has been signaling its anxiousness to mediate the crisis. It has good reasons to fear the impact of a destabilized environment in the Middle East on its own internal situation. It wishes to prevent a right-wing coup from being staged in Tehran with US backing.
This is because -- with a hostile Israel in the south, an inimical Iraq in the east, its own overextension in Lebanon in the west -- Syria cannot afford to have an antagonistic near-neighbor in the north as well.
France has been moving independently but, according to ranking diplomats here , with the full understanding of its West European partners. Contrary to some reports, the basic reason for European support for a new UN initiative was not to get them off the hook and justify their decision in Naples not to take sweeping sanctions against Iran.
Although it is true that the Common Market is wary about imposing a full embargo against Iran, European leaders reportedly are more worried that Iran might fall under Soviet influence because of President Carter's policies, which some consider erratic, or that the Middle East would be destabilized due to some new American military venture.
According to a Cabinet-level West European source, "It had become imperative not so much to save Iranian contracts as to reopen the door for diplomatic contact which President Carter had slammed with his unsuccessful hostage rescue operation. He now has something else to chew on than war scenarios, as far as the hostage crisis goes."