AS EXAMPLES OF skillful response to terrorism, the handling of the two seized embassies -- one in Bogota, one in London -- deserves applause. They were very different cases. In Bogota, the gunmen's challenge to the government turned out to be negotiable. In London, it was not. In both places, the authorities acted with restraint and great intelligence. In neither case does the outcome offer much encouragement to other terrorists to use this tactic again.
In Columbia, guerrillas were trying to force the government to release some of their comrades from jail. The government rightly refused -- but it entered into continuous negotiation and offered useful compromises. It guaranteed prompt and fair trials for the prisoners, to be monitored by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Inside the embassy, the hostage diplomats continued to practice their profession, steering the guerrillas toward peaceful settlement. The guerrillas, in response, proved to be serious in claiming that their primary concern was for the treatment of the people in jail.
A special word needs to be said about the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. At a crucial moment, it became the agent of a solution that otherwise might have failed. The commission has established its good faith and its competence in investigations in Nicaragua, Argentina and elsewhere. Here, once again, it demonstrated its value.
The London case was, from the beginning, less promising. The terrorists there wanted to spring men who were imprisoned by another government -- Iran's, whose embassy and diplomats they held at gunpoint. Both the gunmen in London and the prisoners in Iran were involved in the ethnic Arab separists movement in southwest Iran. That movement is a major danger to the revolutionary regime in Tehran, which adamantly refused any negotiations. When the gunmen began shooting their hostages in cold blood, British commandos rushed the building. All of the remaining hostages survived the attack; all but one of the terrorists died in it. That does not provide much of an incentive for trying the embassy strategy again in London.
The episodes in Bogota and London were clearly both inspired by the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. Throughout the past week the Tehran government has been shrieking continually at London that Britain alone has responsible, as host government, for the safety of the Iranian diplomats and their embassy. Now that the affair is over, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has coolly pointed out to Iran that, when it condones and applauds terrorists who occupy an embassy, and holds diplomats hostage in its own capital, it encourages other terriorists to try the same game elsewhere. If Iran wants to strength the tradition of diplomatic immunity, she said, there's one pretty obvious contribution it can make. Obvious to everyone, as it seems, but the Iranians.