Ronald Reagan is seeking to strengthen President Carter's hand in dealing with Iran -- and by so doing is exerting presidential influence even before he takes office.
After calling the captors "barbarians" and saying that the United States "should not pay ransom for people that have been kidnapped," the President-elect explained:
"I was just telling how I felt. But if they got a message out of it that they shouldn't be waiting for me, I'd be very happy."
In Washington the state of negotiations with Iran is being called "murky" even by those sources who are usually informed.
The US now has released details of the month-old American proposals for ending the hostage crisis -- after the plan had been released, part, by Iran.
The US offered to return to Iran some $6 billion in frozen assets almost immediately.
The proposals would require the US to unfreeze Iranian assets, to turn over all American claims againt Iran to an international claims settlement commission for binding third-party arbitration, and to withdraw all US claims agianst Iran for damages suffered during the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran and the detention of the hostages.
None of this would take place -- under the proposals -- until the "safe departure" from Iran of all 52 hostages.
The Iranian proposal that stirred up Reagan's ire over the weekend was one demanding a $9 billion initial US payment as a condition for the hostages' release.
The new developments prompted this type of interpretation here:
* That the release by Iran of the US proposals, which were supposed to be kept secret, did little to improve the prospect that an early settlement can be reached.
* That the proposals and counterproposals now in the air only underscore the complexity of reaching a settlement.
* That the shift of the Iranians from a $24 billion to a $9 billion demand perhaps indicates that Iran is responding positively to the strong US reaction to the initial request.
In fact, there is some speculation here in informed circles that the Iranians are showing they are worried that unless they can work out a settlement soon, they will be up against a much tougher bargainer in Reagan.
These sources anticipate that new, more reasonable offers will be forthcoming from Iran -- early in the new year.
Meanwhile, what seems clear is that Reagan is breaking with the past in becoming presidentially active during the interregnum.
Observers find no precedent for Reagan's indirect involvement in the negotiations with Iran. President-elect of the past have always kep quiet, going out their way to avoid involvement in presidential matters.
Until a few days ago the concept that Reagan would be a harder negotiator with Iran, once he became president was being voiced by others -- not by Reagan himself.
Now, however, the President-elect has jumped in with some harsh words about the Iranian captors.
White House counselor-to-be Edwin Meese III underscored the Reagan position. "It would be to their [Iran's] advantage to get the hostages out now," Mr. Meese said in a TV interview Dec. 28.