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Gulf war defies Western logic; Iran sees Washington hand behind war; seesaw for US hostages tilts downward

The air-raid siren wailed as the Iraqi warplane dove for its latest bombing raid on Tehran. . . .m An Itaqi plane?m

Look again, many Iranians will tell you. It might also be anm Israeli, jet, piloted by anm Egyptian; or an Egyptian one piloted by an Israeli.m

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One thing, only, seems all but sure to such Iranians: Behind the whole nasty plot is that bunch of imperialists and CIA agents in the White House.m

The Carter administration's declared "neutrality" in the Iraqi-Iranian war is looking distinctly unm-neutral to many in Tehran, again lowering the seesaw hopes of freedom for 52 Americans held hostages since last November.

Or so suspect senior Western diplomats in Tehran, reached by telephone Oct. 6 in their improvised basement shelters during the latest enemy air strike on the outskirts of the city.

On Nov. 4, Election Day in the United States, the Americans will have been held hostage for a full year. Fourteen of the original prisoners have been released along the way -- 13 women and blacks in anticipation that these US minorities would then flock into American streets in support of the militant student captors; and one man who had fallen ill.

"But things again look bleaker for the rest of the hostages," comments one diplomat, long involved in Western efforts to get whoever runs Iran to free the captives.

The dizzying ups and downs of that campaign continue, he and other envoys caution. This, alone, was cited as a type of "slow progress" by one diplomat. Another noted with some satisfaction that relative Iranian moderates had managed so far to beat back pressure in Iran's parliament for a daily, public review of the hostage crisis -- a setup sure to fan antiAmerican rhetorical flames.

All analysts argued that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, should he feel so moved , could still deliver a quirk resolution of the crisis.

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Some analysts outside Iran argue he has redoubled reason to do so, in order to win reversal of a US embargo on spare parts for his battle forces' American-made weaponry. Tehran diplomats say only that there remains no indication the aging Muslim leader has been swayed by the logic.

Yet there could be little mistaking a renewed sense of despair on the hostage issue in talking to the diplomats as the air raid sirens wailed Oct. 6.

First, the speaker of an Iranian parliament told by Ayatollah Khomeini to decide the captives' fate had just been quoted as saying the Ayatollah's own stated conditions for a hostage release were but a minimum bargaining position.

The Ayatollah had omitted earlier demands for a formal US apology and for hostage trials. The parliament, if the speaker is not overruled by the Ayatollah, could now presumably change that.

But Iran remains a country where the Ayatollah largely limits himself to rule by riddle, where there is no coherent and definable day-to-day government, and where politicians seem finally to be swayed by their own rhetoric. In this context, diplomats noted a more intangible roadblock to freeing the hostages:

"We cannot forget how real and ingrained are Iranian suspicions of the Americans. For many Iranians, and certainly for the more vocal militants, th is war with Iraq is simply a confirmation of those suspicious.

"Many IRanians really think Washington is hatching complex plots to help Iraq in the war. The idea of Egyptian or Israeli planes and pilots taking off from Iraqi with US help is only one of the theories."

Historically, the suspicious can be traced to a very real CIA boost for the 1953 uprising in Iran that restored a briefly deposed Shah. The US decision late last year to allow the Shah to visit for medical treatment, and the foiled bid to free the hostages in April, did little to quell Iranian convictions that more than 25 years later the Americans were still acting in bad faith.

Some diplomats in Tehran suspect that nothing the Carter administration could have been done would have dented Iranians' tendency to lay the war with Iraq, too, on the Americans' doorstep.

But these analysts also say US moves to aid Arab ally saudi Arabia during the conflict, despite the accompanying protestations of "neutrality," have also provided further rhetorical ammunition for Iranian fundamentalists leading the battle to keep the hostages.

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