Diplomatic safety

IT is time for the United States government to move decisively to protect its embassy employees in the world's areas of turmoil. Security provisions should be realistically reviewed in these regions. Embassy staffs should be reasonably pared to those persons who are absolutely necessary. They should live under adequate protection of US armed personnel.

Two incidents this month illustrate the need - one in troubled Beirut, the other in peaceful Strasbourg, in eastern France. In Beirut the first secretary of the US Embassy's political section was kidnapped at gunpoint March 16 as he was leaving his apartment. He was the third American to have disappeared in that city in six weeks; the other two, a professor and a journalist, also are believed to have been kidnapped.

In Strasbourg the US consul-general was shot and wounded March 26 as he left his home. Diplomats may confront dangerous circumstances even in such normally peaceable communities.

It is important for the US not to overreact. Many American diplomats, like those of other nations, are better able to do their jobs when they can live and move freely among nationals of their host country.

Yet it is necessary to be prudent. Even in quiet areas US diplomats and other Americans need to be vigilant, when diplomats in general and Americans in particular appear to be tempting targets for terrorists.

In areas of turmoil, such as Beirut, it is essential not to be foolhardy. After the March 16 kidnapping, American diplomatic personnel living in civilian apartments were moved to a secure area to be guarded by American troops. They ought to have been there all along.

As pointed out by Arthur Goldberg, former US Supreme Court justice and longtime diplomat, the State Department argument that protection of US diplomats is the duty of the host government breaks down in areas where there is no effective government - such as Beirut today and post-revolutionary Iran, where the US Embassy was stormed in 1979. He holds that in this environment protection should be supplied to a sharply trimmed number of diplomats by a beefed-up contingent of US military forces, and all the diplomats should live within a protected compound.

The real need is to alter US policy, as Mr. Goldberg notes, so that similar protection is given forthwith to American diplomatic personnel in any part of the world now in turmoil. US diplomatic installations in Central America are obvious targets for current scrutiny.

It is not right to wait until after an incident of kidnapping or attempted assassination before acting. Reexamination in every area of unrest should be prompt; protective action should be firm and effective.

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