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Muskie's mission

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Secretary of State Edmund Muskie faces his first diplomatic test this week as he confers in Europe with allied foreign ministers and also with his Soviet counterpart on such crucial issues as Iran and Afghanistan. He has a multiple task. One is to persuade the allies that, despite lapses of the past, the US intends to pursue a steady policy based on adequate consultaion and credibility. Another is to rally the allies to present a united stand -- as a signal to Iran that its continuing breach of international law is not acceptable and as a warning to the Soviet Union that the Western alliance is undivided in its determination to oppose communist aggression. And a third is to convince Andrei Gromyko that East-West relations cannot be put back on track as long as Soviet troops are brutalizing Afghanistan.

The tasks will not be easy.

The allies give signs they are not prepared to go along with the agreed-upon trade embargo of Iran if progress toward release of the hostages is not made by May 17. There is no denying the economic sacrifice a ban on exports would mean for the West Europeans; many have lucrative deals with Iran. But failure to show allied unity at this time would be unfortunate. While it is doubtful that economic sanctions will arm-twist Iran into giving up the hostages, it can be argued that a diplomatic solution is best fostered as Iran perceives the consequences of its growing isolation in the world.

Nonetheless, applying full economic sanctions is a course questioned by many thoughtful Western scholars and diplomats. Some believe these would only push Iran into the hands of the Russians. This advice should not be taken lightly. The important thing is that the allies thoroughly discuss the issue and then demonstrate their resolve to deal with the crisis in concert.


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