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Hopes for captives rise -- and fall -- in Tehran

Hopes raised by April 1 that the 50 American hostages being held in the US Embassy could shortly be transferred to the control of the Revolutionary Council were quickly dampened here by the militant students holding the hostages and then by President Bani-Sadr himself.

A spokesman for the students told this correspondent through the gates of the embassy April 1 that no transfer was being discussed with the government. One student added: "The hostages will stay in the embassy."

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"All we were talking about," said the spokesman, referring to the students' discussions with the government, "was putting the hostages under the medical care of the government to assure world public opinion that they are safe and being well treated.

"But, in fact, they are already under government medical care," he said. "Every week a doctor from the International Red Cross comes in to give them a checkup."

President Bani-Sadr had earlier told a massive Islamic Republic Day rally at Freedom Square April 1 that if the United States government were to issue an official statement saying that it would make no more propaganda on the hostages until the Majlis (parliament) took a decision about them, they would be transferred to the care of the Revolutionary Council.

But later the Iranian President told Reuter that Mr. Carter's initial response failed to meet Iran's demands. "A declaration containing all the conditions that we asked for must be published," he declared. [Mr. Carter deferred sanctions against Iran April 1 but warned his patience was not endless. ]

The students' apparently unyielding response may have been encouraged by a message from Ayatollah Khomeini, read by his son Sayed Ahmed, at the same Freedom Square rally. In it, the Ayatollah Khomeini "flattery" and of "resorting to all means in his power" to win the American presidential election.

The Ayatollah likened Mr. Carter's purportedly soft-line message to him on March 26 to the Shah's"flattery" of the Iranian clergy just before the collapse of his regime over a year ago. He also accused Mr. Carter of lying in his claim (in the same March 26 message) that he was "completely innocent" of moves that were made to transfer the exiled Shah to Egypt.

There was no reference at all in the Ayatollah's message to a transfer of the hostages to the Revolutionary Council.

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Hopes that a transfer was about to be made were so high at first that some foreign correspondents kept an all-night vigil at the American Embassy gates Monday night so that they would be on the spot when the transfer was made. Said one European correspondent:

"I could have believed yesterday [Monday] that a transfer was about to be made, but today after hearing Ayatollah Khomeini's message, I don't think there is going to be any transfer at all."

Even if the hostages are transferred to the custody of the Revolutionary Council, Ayatollah Khomeini has insisted that they will not be released before the new Iranian parliament is finally elected and debates the issue -- perhaps in May or June or even later. The Ayatollah reiterated this point in his message of April 1.

At time of writing, President Bani-Sadr appeared to be fighting against heavy odds in his efforts to get the hostages at least transferred to the control of his government.

The Iranian President's move to appeal directly to the crowd to win approval for his efforts to end the hostage crisis appears to be a tactic to outmaneuver the students in their own game. On the whole he appeared to have the crowd on his side. But some hard-liners in his audience raised questions about his approach.

Similarly, a close look at the new conditions set by the Revolutionary Council appears to indicate that he has been meeting with resistance from inside the council as well. The demand that the US in effect keep silence until the parliament decides the hostage issue bears the stamp of the council's hard-line "majority." Staff correspondent Ned Temko reports:

Iranian President Bani-Sadr's offer to take "control" of the US Embassy hostages has raised a hauntingly familiar question in Tehran: Could the revolution's most powerful "moderate" deliver?

By late April 1 that seemed far from certain. For the hostage transfer depends on virtual silence in Washington, strong support from Ayatollah Khomeini , and what would amount to acquiesence on the part of the embassy students.

Usually well-informed Iranian sources said April 1 that the Ayatollah, the revolution's enigmatic oracle, had agreed to the "principle" of the hostage transfer. But it was unclear whether the Islamic leader was ready to help his President translate principle into practice.

Veteran Iranian political analysts did not think the Ayatollah would actively campaign against Mr. Bani-Sadr's efforts to get control of the hostages. But these analysts argued it was equally unlikely that a leader who has repeatedly sought to stay clear of the revolution's internal struggles would openly support the President if the embassy militants managed to set up a showdown.


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