President Carter's appeal for international economic sanctions against Iran puts a fundamental question to the "international community": is there any such bird? Is there any working sense of a minimal common interest among the nations that can be brought to bear to help persuade the terorists in Iran to release their American hostages?

In truth, this is not a convenient question to ask at this time. It is never a convenient question. The weather is cold, and there is a recession in most of the countries with close economic ties with Iran. Those governments that join the United States in tightening an economic ring cannot expect to have their publics offer them full-throated thanks, or to avoid certain costs, no matter how successful the administration is in working out burden-sharing arrangements. The precedents -- in particular, Rhodesia -- are not exactly cheering. The United States may find itself being asked to give out chits. Even if it succeeds in mustering a good company at the start, it will be asked, more and more insistently as time drags on, to justify the continuance of such an inconvenient and uncertain enterprise.

There is really, just this to say about Mr. Carter's sanctions request. There are serious political differences between the United States and Iran, and the United States at least has suggested to Iran ways in which they could be addressed. But this is not the problem. In what the United States wants from Iran -- the return of its people -- there is not a grain of special American interest of American advantage. The United States is asking only for what most governments and the primary international institutions have already formally agreed is its due.

If other nations -- we will not, yet, say "international community" -- cannot bring themselves to act promptly and openly in support of this completely disinterested request, then a blanket invitation will have been given to national caprice, to terror, to violence, to a concept of the world as a place where anything foes. Perhaps it is useful to ovserve that, although no nation will fare well in that sort of world, the United States has the resources to fare better than most. Much more than the fate of the hostages hinges on Mr. Carter's request for help in getting them back.