'Welcome home, Richard!'

Few American television viewers could have repressed a lump in their throat as they watched Richard Queen's poignant reunion with his colleagues at the State Department. In the quiet, tearful faces of the former US hostage and his friends was summed up the joy of homecoming and the end of ordeal. It is a thankful nation that shares that joy.

Thankful not only because one more American hostage has returned to his homeland. But because Mr. Queen has helped dispel some fears about the hostages still in Iran and some misconceptions about their captors. It is fair to assume he told the President and the State Department far more than he told the American public. Security of the remaining 52 hostages no doubt demands circumspection. But what Mr. Queen was able to say is reassuring.

It is clear that the hostages are kept in relative isolation from one another and in otherwise cruel physical conditions. But there does not seem to be any direct physical or mental abuse of the captives. They are coping well. They are not being brainwashed, according to Mr. Queen, and no appreciable pressure has been applied to extract a political statement about the former Shah of Iran or to turn the Americans against their own government.

In the young diplomat's judgment, the seizure of the American Embassy was a spontaneous act, not one planned by or with the Iranian government. Of even more political significance is his characterization of the captors as "zealous Islamic students" who are fiercely anticommunist. There has been much speculation in the US about possible Soviet-backed communist influence among the Iranian captors, speculation which, if true, would heighten the diplomatic dangers and complexity of the crisis, both in Iran and in the US. Mr. Queen's assessment tends to mitigate those fears and confirm the view of many on-the-scene observers that the Iranians are in fact militant Muslim students.

Finally, Mr. Queen had a message for those countrymen who may have doubted the wisdom or value of visits paid to Tehran at Christmas and Easter time by American clergymen. "If they hadn't come, it would have been much, much worse," he said. What at the time may have looked to some like diplomatic interference nonetheless has helped sustain the captives and, in the long term, proved beneficial.

Richard Queen says he feels a bit "guilty" that he is back home while his colleagues remain imprisoned. He need feel no trace of guilt. His release -- and the mental command of himself he displays after such a trying experience -- heartens a frustrated nation and gives hope that Iran's sense of humaneness and justice will ultimately prevail over the negative forces still holding the Americans hostage. We join all Americans in saying, "Welcome home, Richard!"

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