The saga of Glen Cove

We can just hear those Russians holed up in their diplomatic mansion in Glen Cove, Long Island, shouting: ''The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!''

Who does not see the humor of a small US community taking on the Soviet Union and the United States government by banning its Soviet residents from its beaches and other recreational facilities? It's hard to repress a smile at the thought of Americans' independence and gumption.

But, however much mirth the Glen Cove saga may elicit, it is not really a laughing matter.The Soviet Union has now retaliated and barred American diplomats in Moscow from a swimming area on the Moscow and Volga Rivers. Tit for tat.

Indeed, the Glen Covians are out of order and the US State Department is right. It is customary for a government occupying property in another country not to pay taxes. This is a reciprocal arrangement. Glen Cove may feel cheated out of property taxes, but the US diplomatic mission pays no taxes in the Soviet Union. The people of Glen Cove might reflect that, if it did, this would mean an even bigger federal budget deficit.

But aren't the Russian diplomats ''spying''? Probably. But presumably so are their American counterparts. The point is that, given the closed nature of Soviet society, the American presence in the USSR is more important than the Soviet presence in the United States. It may not seem much to be barred from a Soviet swimming hole, but every little access counts.

It is to be hoped that Glen Cove and the State Department make their peace. In the context of the many problems in US-Soviet relations, this is only a minor irritant. But an unpleasant one. Moreover, is keeping Soviet citizens off an American beach or a tennis court the kind of image of a free, democratic, hospitable society Americans wish to convey?

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