Latest developments in Iran and Turkey may open the way for the West to use diplomacy in dealing with two disruptive issues along the southern border of the Soviet Union.
Unsettled, the two issues offer a constant invitation for exploitation by Moscow. They are:
* The future of the 52 American hostages in Iran, now into their 11th month of captivity.
* The threat to NATO bases in Greece flowing from a longstanding Greek-Turkish dispute.
The coup in Turkey and Ayatollah Khomeini's pronouncement on the hostages promise to nudge both issues, in their separate contexts, away from political rhetoric and toward diplomacy and long-term national self-interest.
The two developments are not directly connected, although Turkey and Iran have a common border. It is another common border -- the one which each has separately with the Soviet Union and which serves as a constant warning to each of the threat from that direction -- which probably was more connected with the weekend moves by the military leadership in Turkey and by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.
But if the United States and its Western allies see possibly positive elements in the news from Turkey and Iran, there ticks away a potential complicating factor in yet another contiguous land with which each of those two countries has a common frontier: Iraq.
That complicating factor lies not only in Iraq's embroilment in mounting frontier clashes with Iran. It lies also in Iraq's determination to go ahead with developing nuclear fuel which could be the prelude to an Iraqi nuclear bomb. That is something which Israel is likely to try to prevent at almost any cost -- from thwarting provision of the requisite material at its French source to a possible preemptive strike at sites in Iraq.
In his Sept. 12 address, Ayatollah Khomeini linked Iraq with the United States, seeing the hand of the US coming "out of the sleeve of Iraq." Yet, for the first time, he spelled out in detail his conditions for the hostages' release -- and the list contains no demand either for the hostages being put on trial or for a public apology from the US for past "misdeeds."
These two specific demands, reiterated by hard-liners in the past, were widely seen outside Iran as being so unacceptable to the US as to prevent any negotiation on the hostage issue.
"On the return of the deposed Shah's wealth and the cancellation of all US claims against Iran, a guarantee of no military and political interventions in Iran, and the freeing of all our investments, the hostages will be set free," said the Ayatollah. "I have given this duty to the [parliament] so that it may decide on any course of action that it deems beneficial to the interest of the nation."
Of the conditions listed by the Ayatollah now, only the one on return of the Shah's wealth would seem to present major difficulty, since the US government has no control over the late monarch's personal investments. And on Sept. 16, the Iranian parliament is expected to discuss its Foreign Affairs Commission's recommendation that there be a public rather than a private debate on disposition of the hostages.
In Turkey, the armed forces have intervened for the third time since the post-World War II institution of parliamentary democracy there. The military's Sept. 12 bloodless coup, with its accompanying suspension of the Constitution and of party political activities, was more in the pattern of the 1971 than of the 1960 military intervention. The latter was the work of colonels just below the top and was followed by the trial and execution of then prime minister Adnan Menderes whom they had ousted.
The latest military intervention was launched by the top leadership of all three services, with their combined commander, Gen. Kenan Evren, acting as their spokesman and moving into the role of head of state. Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel and opposition leader Bulent Ecevit (his immediate predecessor in the premiership) are in protective custody and there is no talk of trials.
The military say their aim is to restore law and order, to preside over the drafting of a new constitution, and then turn government back to the civilians. This is roughly what they did after the 1971 intervention -- after two years. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to do the same now.
Post-World War II military government in Turkey, although sometimes tinged with that toughness peculiar to Turks, has always differed from military government in other lands -- not least the 1967-74 military government of the colonels in adjoining Greece. The Turkish military have seen themselves since World War II as guarantors of the reformist tradition of Kemal Ataturk and trustees of the democratic system -- never as administrators of the state.
The pre-1960 constitution was open to abuse, they concluded, because it gave too much power to the executive. That was remedied, they thought, with a new Constitution which removed power from the executive and transferred it to a Parliament elected on the basis of an idealistic system of proportional representation.
But events since 1971 showed (according to General Evren) that the new system made it possible for "the state with its main organs" to be "totally immobilized."
Most threatening of all have been mounting violence and political terrorism from extremes of right and left. Partly because of the constitutional restrictions of the premiership, Prime Minister Demirel was increasingly checkmated in efforts to deal with this extra-parliamentary menace.
At the same time, the parliamentary lineup, with splinter parties holding a balance, prevented him from securing a dissolution and a new mandate -- despite his courage in putting through needed tough economic measures. (The military are likely to follow through on these, although an early move was to award striking workers a 70 percent pay increase.)
All of this forced Mr. Demirel and opposition leader Ecevit into increasingly petty and personal charges and countercharges which at last broke the patience of the military.
One result of their dispute was often demagogic rhetoric on the hard issues, such as Cyprus and the Aegean, which pit Greeks against Turks. This blocked the road to negotiation and compromise which each probably knew was in the long-term interest of Turkey and the Western world.
The Turkish military, once they have dealt with immediate domestic problems, should be able to act more clinically on these issues. If they do, the US and others in the West will be looking to the Greeks and Cypriots to reciprocate.