A mood of frustration over the failure up to now of UN and other efforts to end the four-month captivity of the Americans hostages in Tehran is hardening into demands for a tough new US approach to the problem.
Carter administration policy continues to support the work of the UN commission, which has sought to air Iranian grievances against the Shah and the United States in return for access to the hostages. But that access, even if granted unconditionally, does not -- judging by statements of Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the other main Iranian actors -- mean their liberation is imminent.
President Carter's principal opponents in the 1980 presidential race all have accused him to one degree or another of what Republican George Bush calls a "weak and vacillating" policy toward Iran.
Up to now, families of the hostages, including those accused of spying by thier captors, have publicly or tacitly supported President Carter's policy of moderation and non-use of force. This was proclaimed last November, after Republican presidential aspirant John B. Connally urged an armed US expedition to liberate the captives in an Entebbe-type operation.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy then drew widespread criticism for his expression of concern about the abuses of the Shah's regime and US support for that regime. Senator Kennedy now is urging that "this is a time for public debate over past American policy toward Iran."
One administration official not directly concerned with the hostage situation but rather with general US policy responsibilities said, "Mr. Bush's remark that 'we are not closer to solving the hostage crisis than we were at the moment the embassy was seized' [last Nov. 4] looks like the truth to a lot of people."
US State Department spokesman Hodding Carter III said March 4 that he preferred not to express his own feelings about the Tehran situation, but recalled that the ruling Iranian Revolutionary Council had affirmed the UN commission's right to access to the hostages. And, at a news briefing, US Ambassador to the UN Donald McHenry said, "we could assume" there was an understanding that the UN commission's work would lead to release of the hostages.
Prof. Stanley Newman, a Middle East specialist at Temple University in Philadelphia, said he would not join senior US historian and policymaker George Kennan in urging that a tecnical state of war should have been declared on Iran.
"However," Dr. Newman said in a telephone interview, "I would urge the administration to go back on their renunciation of force -- a matter of principle, rather than of doing something specific."
Professor Newman said the US and UN negotiators should have realized that according to the Shia Muslim rules under which Ayatollah Khomeini's government operates, diplomatic "understandings" are not perceived as they are by Westerners.
"The us is now perceived as a paper tiger by Iran and much of the third world , and we have to removed this perception before we can do anything else," Dr. Newman asserts.
Liberal commentator Morton Kondracke of the New Republic magazine urged in a March 2 commentary on National Public Radio that the United States now drop negotiations through the Un channel as fruitless, cut off all economic relations with Iran, expel Iranian diplomat from the US, and proceed with economic sanctions against Iran, delayed by the administration since the UN process began to function in January.
US liberals who opposed excessive past American support for the Shah's regime (like Mr. Kondracke), as well as members of the armed forces and Defense Department officials, now are saying, in effect:
the US should refuse any mor dealings of any kind with Iran, until it frees the hostages. Terrorism is becoming a popular way of conducting international business -- as shown by the latest (Feb. 26) embassy takeover in Bogota, Colombia (where the US ambassador is among other foreign envoys being held for high political and monetary ransom by terrorists). Therefore, the US must, here and now, take a stand that stops short of force -- and so spares the hostages' lives and the peace of the region -- but that proves to Iran and its emulators that terrorism is a form of crime that does not pay.