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Movement in Iran

One hears reports that the American people and some voices in Congress are beginning to lose patience over the President's failure to secure release of the US hostages in Iran. We hope the reports are exaggerated. It is difficult, of course, to urge Americans to persist in their spirit of forbearance after three long months of seeming inactivity. Yet restraint is called for now more than ever. President Carter has wisely recognized this by not going ahead with plans to impose economic sanctions against Iran, a decision formally announced this week.

All along, it has bee clear that the hostage crisis is closely linked with the power struggle going on in Iran and that it can be resolved only with a denouement of that struggle. We seem to be approaching that point. Newly elected President Bani-Sadr, with a strong majority backing of the Iranian people, is trying to assert his authority over the country and reestablish state government. He faces stiff opposition from the fundamentalist religious forces and from leftist extremist but he appears to be maneuvering deftly and decisively. He has managed to get himself accepted as acting head of the Revolutionary Council. He has ordered the release of the Information Minister, arrested after militants accused him of collaborating with the CIA. He has indicated he wishes to "purge" the state radio and television.

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Most significantly, perhaps, he has confronted the hostage-takers head-on by criticizing them as "self-centered children" who behave like a "government within a government." It cannot but he encouraging for Americans to hear the new Iranian leader say, regarding the charges made against the Information Minister: "We have a constitutional law and we should follow the legal procedures in these cases." Invoking the concept of legality in this way holds out promise not only for the US hostages but for Iran's future political course.

Not that it is for the US or any other outsiders to interfere with Iran's internal affairs, even indirectly by public judgments. Surely if the whole recent history of US relations with Iran has taught the world anything, it is that the Iranians, indeed any people, must be left alone to work out their system of government and their social and political policies in the way they choose. Even now the less said officially by others about the political developments in Iran, the better.

We ourselves mention them simply to underscore the need for a continuing US policy of moderation. It is apparent that President Bani-Sadr wants to have done with the hostage predicament and needs only to make sure that Iran's interests are upheld in any agreed upon solution. Negotiations still in train at the United Nations, which would provide for an international inquiry into Iran's grievances against the Shah and the freeing of the captives, seem to answer that face-saving requirement. So do Tehran's communications with Panama regarding extradition of the harbored dictator.

How much more time it may take before all the pieces fall into place is impossible to know. A rosy optimism would be foolish. But at the moment there is more reason for hope than despair. The American public, its patience perhaps tested as never before, should be uplifted by captive Bruce Laingen's comment that virtual captivity has taught him the great danger of encouraging hatred. "I remain convinced that there is decency in every human being, and that it will yet prevail here," the senior US diplomat in Tehran wrote to his son. "As the expression goes, all this too will pass. I remain confident of that."

That is the stuff of which triumph is made.


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