FIRST FIDEL CASTRO thought to embarrass the United States by swamping it with refugees. Jimmy Carter one-upped him by opening the door to all Cubans who wish to come. Stung, Mr. Castro has now responded with a demand centering on the 378 Cubans, would-be emigrants to the United States, whom his police drove into the American mission in Havana. He won't even discuss letting them go, he says, unless the administration enters talks on normalizing relations. By this he means, on the American side, abandoning Guantanamo, ending intelligence overflights and lifting the trade embargo. What he means on the Cuban side he does not say.

The Maximum Leader evidently thinks the United States will pay ransom for the release of those Cubans. It is an absurd proposition and the United States cannot entertain it for one minute. The issue of the 378 should be promptly removed from the board.This does not take the Marines. Why not simply start doing what is necessary, right now, right there in the mission, to make those Cubans Americans? When they then headed for an exit point, the Cuban government would be in the position, if it chose to harass or halt them, of dealing with people under the protection of a foreign power.