It's been nearly two months since the revolutionary Islamic government of Iran collared a band of terrorists who had hijacked a Kuwaiti airliner and flown it to Tehran, murdering two American AID officials and torturing other passengers in the process. In the Persian Gulf as elsewhere, there was a sharp outcry at the spectacle of Iran's seemingly cozy treatment of the killers. In response, Iran, while refusing to extradite the four Arabic-speaking terrorists in its custody, had its public prosecutor promise to try them in an Islamic court. But nothing has since been heard from Iran about a trial. Without information to the contrary, the presumption must be that Iran is going back on its word.

Should anyone be surprised? The current regime in Tehran is, afer all, a confirmed and defiant violator of the rights that most governments at least tip their hat to. It could be called a world "leader" in this regard: recently it achieved the distinction of becoming the first government to renounce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It continues to conduct a savage repression, including repeated instances of murder, against its pitiful Bahai minority. No change is evident in its policy of aiding and sponsoring the terrorist groups that have wreaked havoc in the Middle East in recent years. One of those groups currently claims to hold five Americans hostage in Lebanon.

No realistic observer will expect very much from Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran when it comes to making good on its word. Still, his regime did promise to try the hijackers. Presumably it did so because, being bogged down in its war against Iraq and in some of its domestic enterprises, it thought it could gain something of value by accommodating its irate Gulf neighbors in this regard. In some quarters, its promise was tentatively taken as a sign that the balance of internal forces, as between the extremists and those more inclined to settle Iran down, might be tipping the right way.

Its failure to make good on the hijackers' trial is a boost for terrorism and a display of contempt for its neighbors. It means Iran is still playing the outlaw and still deserving of being treated as one.