Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, fresh from the apparent diplomatic success of the Rhodesia confernece, has taken on another international task: a 10-day trip through the delicate crescent of countries threatened by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
His visit to Turkey, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India, arranged at short notice after a six-nation meeting of NATO countries in London Dec. 31, spotlights Britain's continuing emergence from its cocoon of internal difficulties into a world-class power.
Significantly, his trip also throws Britain into closer alliance with the United States.
The British Cabinet, meeting Jan. 10, reaffirmed its support of the American position. And in Turkey, Oman, and Pakistan, Lord Carrington will find negotiations already under way with the US over military bases and arms.
The British position contrasts with the more equivocal responses to the Soviet invasion from other European capitals. Europeans have not generally echoed President Carter's view that the situation is worse than that caused by the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
Meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Hayrettin Erkmen Jan. 9, Lord Carrington received assurances that Ankara is in full agreement about the need for a strong Western response. Turkey's economy is foundering, its nationalistic democracy is fragile, and it has had to rely on Soviet aid in the past. Last year Turkey took 10 percent of its oil from Russia in exchange for grain.
But Turkey is still committed to a 29-year- old NATO membership. And cold relations with the United States -- dating from a US arms embargo after the Turkish invasion of Cyrpus in 1974 -- are beginning to thaw.
Other countries on the tour will raise similar concerns:
Oman. Sultan Qabus, the pro-Western ruler whose country overlooks the crucial Strait of Hormuz, has been approached about having US military bases in his country. With pro-Soviet South Yemen at its back door and Ethiopia not far away, he may find reasons to renew his already-strong ties with the British.
Saudi Arabia. The seat of Mecca, Saudi Arabia is considering an initiative by Pakistan to call an emergency meeting of the 42- member Islamic Conference in Islamabad about the Afghanistan situation. They already have announced their withdrawal from the Moscow Olympics -- a significant move, says one longtime Arabia-watching diplomat here, since "they don't very often leap into the breach about anything."
Pakistan. The two-year-old military government of President Zia ul-Haq faces a dilemma: how to accept Western arms and still maintain his nonaligned status within the Muslim world. Like Turkey, Pakistan has been subject to US arms restrictions, largely because the Symington amendment prevents arms aid to countries developing nuclear weapons. But Pakistani ministers traveling to Riyadh and New York have recently sought support for what threatens to become a struggle over its ill-defined border with Afghanistan.
India. Prime Minister-elect Indira Gandhi, still settling her Cabinet in the wake of a dazzling electoral success, has not yet commented on the crisis. She was lavishly courted by Moscow during her earlier term of office, then dropped hard when she fell from favor in her own country.