The hostage release ritual proceeds entirely too slowly for Syria to arrive at the Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid Oct. 30 untainted by continuing sponsorship of terrorism.
While all Americans must be grateful for the release of Prof. Jesse Turner from 4 1/2 years of captivity in Lebanon -- and for the positive role the Syrian government played in his release -- that is not enough.
Since August, four long-held hostages have been released in Syrian-controlled Lebanon. But eight remain, four of them Americans. United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez, who is catering tirelessly to terrorists' self-esteem in order to free the hostages, publicly thanked Iran, Libya, Syria and "groups in Lebanon" for Mr. Turner's release. That is reason enough to blame Iran, Libya and Syria as well as those groups for the prolonged agony of Americans Terry Anderson, Thomas Sutherland, Joseph Cicippio and Alann Steen, Briton Terry Waite, Italian Alberto Molinari and Germans Heinrich Struebig and Thomas Kemptner.
Israel is playing its part well in freeing the counter-hostages it seized from the Hezbollah-controlled population in Lebanon at a pace to procure information or remains or return of five Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon. Information on the fate of three has been obtained. The Israeli-Hezbollah situation is unconnected to the kidnapping of the Americans and Europeans.
The peace conference in Madrid is being played for bigger stakes than the hostage game. Syria is an essential player in Madrid, if its allies Libya and Iran are not. Syria is implicated in the hostage-holding because it controls Lebanon. Iran is involved because Hezbollah, a terrorist group thriving in the Lebanese Shiite population, is loyal to Iran's regime and holds the hostages or controls those who do.
So, thanks to Syrian dictator Hafez el Assad -- America's coalition partner in the gulf war -- for his good offices in this matter. But what he has done is not enough.
The hostages did nothing to merit kidnapping. They are pawns in the terrorist game that is tolerated or sponsored by sovereign governments. For those governments to be accepted in the family of nations requires, at a minimum, an end to all this. And for Syria, tapped as the key Arab player at Madrid, the need is urgent.