Nothing is more valuable to the United States in today's world than friendly nations that can maintain their own integrity and character while working with us on the complex and controversial issue of our times. Indeed, we need true friends, not clients or puppets. Algeria has proven to be just such a friend.

In late 1979, not long after my resingnation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, I began making inquiries about possible mediators in the crisis over the American hostages in Iran. Names being discussed as potential mediators ranged from U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim to Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, but the smart money said that Algeria would probably be the most credible go-between.

U.S.-Algerian relations had been somewhat strained since the 1967 war between Israel and the Arab world. And although we maintained good commercial relations with the Algerian oil and liquefied natural gas industries, Algeria was one of the most persistent critics of U.S. policies in the Middle East, southern Africa, Vietnam and the Western Sahara. At the 1974 meeting of the non-aligned movement in Algiers, the Algerians introduced the call for a "new international economic order" -- a concept regarded with suspicion and some hostility by the U.S. government. Algeria also has been one of the price hawks of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. So it was somewhat surprising to many that the Algerians were willing to play such a quietly aggressive role in the effort to free the American hostages.

During the 444 days of captivity of the hostages, when rumors about a settlement floated about in every direction, I found that time after time Algerians sources proved to be the most accurate and reliable. They never made promises of a miraculous release. They were constantly in touch with the full range of competing authorities in Iran and worked diligently for 14 months to facilitate a settlement.

In December 1979, Algerian Ambassador to the U.S. Rebha Malek came to my home in Atlanta to dicuss possible ways in which Algeria might help to secure the release of the hostages. I had similar discussions with Algerian leaders at Algiers in January 1980 and again last December.

Ambassador Malek and Foreign Minister Mohammed Ben Yahia, both experienced diplomats and products of their own revolution, which won independence from the French in 1962, often spoke of the days when President John F. Kennedy recognilzed their struggle for self-determination and made intercessions in their behalf with Charles de Gaulle. It was with pleasure that they were finally able to return the favor.

One of the other supporters of the Algerian revolution was none othe than Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who extended both moral and financial assistance to their cause as far back as 1957. To the Algerians, the difficulty of consolidating power in the wake of a revoluton was still a living memory. They lived through the coup against Ahmen Ben Bella in 1965 and the early attempts to estabish a sense of national purpose and central government authority under Houari Boumedienne, who led the country until his death in 1978. Hence, the Algerians were well aware of problems facing post-revolutionary Iran.

From beginning to end, Algeria has attempted to follow a militant yet reasoned view of struggle against colonialism, domination and racism wherever it may occur. They offered support to the Patriotic Front in its struggle against Ian Smith in Rhodesia and to SWAPO, the liberation movement against South African rule in Namibia. They provided weapons, training and headquarters for African movements against the Portuguese. They are most active in their support of the Polisario movement in the Western Sahara against neighboring Morocco.

While they have opposed the Camp David accords and actively supported Palestinian rights and the PLO, their attitude is strangely objective and the unemotional. They insist that they support principles more than parties in conflicts. In 1979, they did not hesitate to support Tanzania's Christian president, Julius Nyerere, when his country was invaded by Uganda's Muslim dictator, Idi Amin. Algeria also negotiated the treaty between Iran and Iraq on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway in 1975, and perhaps forestalled for a time the war that erupted last year and made release of the hostages more likely.

Algeria's new president, Chadli Bendjedid, gives more of an impression of a corporate executive than that of a former army officer. His priorities for Algeria are clearly the peaceful development of the country's huge land mass and natural resources. Though much advanced in cultural and industrial development, Algeria still is a developing country with many of the same tensions and contradictions facing nations like Iran, where there is a clash between traditional and modern cultures, religious and secular values.

A sound, friendly relationship with the United States is essential to the fulfillment of Algeria's development plans. Trade, technology transfer and mutual respect are in the interest of us both. Algeria's oil and gas revenues from the U.S. approach $10 billion annually, and new contracts are currently being discussed between the U.S. Department of Energy and SONATRACH, the Algerian national oil and gas company.

The hostage mediation was a strong and determined signal of Algeria's interest in genuine friendship with the United States, but Algeria will retain its militant non-aligned and anti-colonial stance. It will reach out in peace to Morocco, but will also support the Polisario. It will accept Israel and U.N. Resolution 242 (which recognizes Israel's right to exist within secure borders), but it will insist on inclusion of Palestine in any Middle East settlement. It will guard jealously its Third World, African, Arab and non-aligned leadership roles.

One hopes the Reagan administration will appreciate Algeria's roles and the value of continuing our friendship. After all, are not good strong friends of more value than puppets for a great nation such as ours?