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American escape leaves Ghotbzadeh in hot water

The Canadian-sponsored escape of six Americans from Tehran probably rules out any immediate release for the 50 embassy hostages in Iran who were not so fortunate.

But an immediate release was not regarded as likely, anyway. The feeling is that the Iranian-American crisis must be wound down, not magically made to disappear. And in the long run, Canada's spy-novel escape caper actually may help that process along.

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It seemed no accident that Iran's Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh led the howls of denunciation Jan. 30 against the escape maneuver. It was while Mr. Ghotbzadeh was handling the Iranian side of the US Embassy crisis that the Americans managed to slip away. He seems bound to bear at least part of the blame inside Iran for the tarnishing of the country's revolutionary pride.

And nothing would jibe more nicely with the campaign of President-Elect Abolhassan Bani-Sadr -- an outspoken opponent of the embassy seizure -- to bring order, hierarchy, and logic to a political system confused by rival "revolutionary" centers of power.

Iranian officials have been quick to tell this and other reporters visiting Tehran that Mr. Ghotbzadeh used his former post as head of the state television organization with Machiavellian precision in a bid for supremacy in Iran's ruling circle.

He made a lot of enemies along the way -- among them Mr. Bani-Sadr, who was effectively ousted as acting foreign minister late last year with the help of a television campaign by opponents of his relatively moderate stand on the embassy crisis.

Many longtime Iran-watchers in this Arab capital have stressed that the newly elected President in Tehran would have to begin clipping the wings of ambitious rivals, such as Mr. Ghotbzadeh, as part of any resolution of the embassy impasse.

Other clip-worthy wings, the analysts suggest, would include those of the militant Muslim students who actually hold the American captives.

This latter objective is a difficult one. It almost certainly will require an assist from the one voice the students have vowed to heed -- that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

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But the objective of trimming Mr. Ghotbzadeh's wings, oddly enough, may have got a backhanded boost from the Canadian-orchestrated escape maneuver.

Of at least equal importance is the fact that Ayatollah Khomeini himself now seems to have gone public with his support for a strong Bani-Sadr presidency.

Though still hospitalized, the venerable Muslim leader took to the Tehran airwaves Jan. 29 with an appeal that those candidates beaten by Mr. Bani-Sadr (including Mr. Ghotbzadeh, who did especially poorly at the polls) group in support of the landslide victor.


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