The Carter caravan

President Carter's post-summit travels handsomely correct past diplomatic omissions and just possibly herald future improvements. His very trajectory -- from Yugoslavia to Spain to Portugal -- has a certain eloquence. Three countries known for their long-lived 20th-century dictators. Yugoslavia in early transition from Tito with a collective communist leadership. Spain returning to monarchy and developing democracy in the few years since Franco. Portugal, in the longer period since Salazar and his successor Caetano, divesting itself of the last European colonial empire and developing democracy, too.

Mr. Carter's omissions had been to fail to visit the two young Iberian democracies sooner, permitting some to suggest his new courtesies may have something to do with seeking Latin votes at home in an election year; and to fail to attend President Tito's recent funeral, permitting some to suggest Mr. Carter did not want to share the limelight with other world leaders, notably Russia's Mr. Brezhnev.

All is forgiven now. Or it ought to be in the interests of a mutual building on the relationships that have been cemented and a following through on Mr. Carter's support for the strengths and regard for the needs of the three nations.

It clearly behooves the United States, which knows long it takes for democratic ideals to become democratic realities, to honor and understand the tribulations of Spain and Portugal in their remarkable emergence from authoritarianism. Consider that they have progressed so swiftly as to be candidates for membership in the European Community. And there has to be a certain symbolism in Madrid the venue for the second round of follow-up talks on the Helsinki conference with all its declared concern for human rights.

Recall that the first follow-up round was in Belgrade, where such rights as free speech and free political activity have still to be achieved. It was well that, in toasting Yugoslavia and the memory of Tito there this week, Mr. Carter was not so effusive about Tito's exemplification of eagerness or liberty as he had been Tito visited Washington -- and was demonstrated against for his restrictions on liberty at home.

Rather, the US President properly stressed such strengths of Tito and his country as independence and courage. Without doubt Yugoslavia's removing itself and keeping itself from under Moscow's yoke is one of the extraordinary national accomplishments of our time. And one of Tito's legacies is the determined spirit of nonalignment which he maintained so firmly in the face of Cuban dictator Castro's efforts to tilt the nonaligned movement toward Moscow.

The new leadership can maintain this legacy by proceeding according to the joint statement issued with Mr. Carter. It proclaims nonalignment. It condemns intervention, specifically the military interventions in Afghanistan and Cambodia.

Of particular constructive influence may by the statement's references to Iran. It not only calls for release of the American hostages but affirms Iran's right to independence and to internal development -- in effect, the right to pursue its revolutionary path -- without outside interference.

It is germane to note that, according to participants, the recent conference often reported as being on US "crimes" in Iran was officially on US "intervention" in Iran. Iranians are said to be concerned that the US has never definitely said it recognized their revolution and would not try to overthrow it with any action such as returning the Shah again. By joining in the Belgrade statement, Mr. Carter may have gone some way toward meeting this concern. For Iranians to respond would be an extra dividend of the Carter tour.

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