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Bold rescue buoys London but Iran relations still cool

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Britain's self-confidence has received a welcome fillip from the successful rescue of most of the hostages held in the Iranian Embassy here. In contrast to the failure of the American rescue mission in Iran last month, the lifting of the embassy siege in London after six days showed the British capable of far more than (in the self-deprecating phrase often heard here) "just muddling through."

As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told a cheering House of Commons on May 6 , the rescue operation "made all of us on both sides of the House proud to be British."

The 40 or so black-clad Special Air Service (SAS) troops who freed 19 hostages and killed four of the five gunmen came away almost unscathed after a brief but fierce attack. Two hostages were executed by their captors before the British assault, and three more were wounded during the shootings and explosions that marked the fray.

Apparently using specially developed stun grenades to temporarily build and disorient the gunmen, the SAS troopers swooped from rooftops on ropes and reportedly blasted through the wall of an adjoining building in a well-coordinated, smartly planned raid.

Throughout the siege, the Iranian government communicated with the British through the British Embassy in Tehran -- which, in accordance with European Community sanctions against Iran, has been slimmed to about half a dozen staffers. Yet even on the Muslim holy days, communications between the governments reportedly were good.

After the rescue, Iran's President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr sent swift thanks to Mrs. Thatcher. But although he described the "hostage-taking event at the Iranian Embassy" as "unjust," reports from Iran note that his phrasing seemed to argue away any similarities between the London embassy siege and the takeover at the American Embassy in Tehran last November.


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