Iran's fundamentalist government has come in for some stiff criticism from Iranian moderates for its handling of the hostage crisis. As if that were not enough, fissures have appeared within the ranks of the fundamentalists themselves.
One group of hard-liners, which opposed the hostage deal, reportedly has split from the majority of the ruling Islamic Republican Party. What is not clear yet is how permanent the breakaway will be.
President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who heads the moderates, told an Iranian newspaper that he had not yet seen a full report on the hostage deal and therefore wished to withhold his views for the time being. But the President, who has been concentrating on the war with Iraq and thereby strengthening his ties with the military, indicated that the hostage deal was something less than Iran would have obtained if he had been allowed to negotiate last year.
Meanwhile, the President's newspaper Inqilab-i Islami (Islamic Revolution) has attacked the deal editorially for three days in succession. While government leaders have been describing the Algiers agreement as "a great victory for Iran," Inqilab-i Islami has responded, "Which victory?"
Instead, the newspaper asserts that among the results of the crisis and its outcome were "censorship imposed on our society by those who have freed the hostages." The deal also involved "political, social, and economic collisions with our revolution, collisions which stimulated anti-Islamic and anti-Iranian feelings on a world scale and a culture of lies and terror in internal disputes."
The newspaper's list of adverse effects goes on: "An economic boycott, the loss of what remains of our free foreign exchange reserves, and ultimately the stagnation and decay of the national economy and, as a result, the laying of the grounds for the Iran-Iraq war in unequal economic conditions."
The newspaper sneers at the use of the term "surrender of America." It points out that none of the original demands of the students were achieved -- including the return of the Shah and his wealth -- "and probably will not be." The US had not admitted interfering in Iranian affairs, and Iran had succeeded in getting back only $2.8 million "and the fate of the rest is by no means certain."
Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai answered the last criticism in the Majlis (parliament) Jan. 26. He said the US had returned $8 billion "in cash" to Iran, but that $5 billion had gone toward paying back loans Iran had taken from the US , along with the interest due on them.
Majlis Speaker Hojatolislam Hashemi Rafsanjani told newsmen: "Since we already have money in foreign banks, we saw no point in holding onto the loans, particularly since we were paying such high interest on them -- up to 22 percent."
Speaker rafsanjani said he thought the government had done a "good job" on the deal. "The Majlis has approved it," he said, and would not be discussing it further. (Mr. Bani-Sadr's newspaper has called for "an open debate" on the issue.)
One criticism leveled against the fundamentalist government was that since in the end it had accepted less than Mr. Bani-Sadr might have negotiated when he was foreign minister, why were the hostages not released earlier?
Mr. Rafsanjani answering for the fundamentalists, said: "Ask the Imam [ Ayatollah Khomeini] about that. Bani-Sadr wanted to go to the US to negotiate but the Imam said no. He then came back from the airport and resigned his position as foreign minister [in the Cabinet of the former Revolutionary Council ] . . . . Later the Imam said that if the US accepted these conditions the hostages would be freed."
Mr. Rafsanjani claimed that the Revolutionary Council, which was responsible for the hostage issue, was not kept informed of Mr. Bani-Sadr's efforts to end the crisis. "We were not informed about it," he said.
The Majlis speaker also claimed that "something good came out of" the US Embassy takeover. "The nation approved of it. The Imam approved. We also approved."
But, he went on, "for the future, we do not want this sort of thing to happen again . . . . In general, we want to be able to solve foreign policy problems without such incidents occurring."
On the criticism that the deal was not firm enough because it was still possible for the Reagan administration to renege on it, the Majlis speaker said: "If the Americans think it is in their materialist interest [to renege] perhaps they will act accordingly. But I do not think the Americans are so stupid as to destroy their credibility.
"If they trample the contract under foot, their own interests in the world will be hurt much more . . . because the US has contracts and interests all over the world."
But he ended on a note of warning. "We, too, have friends and we, too, shall work against American interests in other places if the US does not honor its commitments."