Iranians may use US hostages to strike back at Carter re-election hopes
The 50 Americans being held in the United States Embassy here face the possibility of many more weeks, if not months, of captivity. After becoming hostage to the tumult of internal Iranian politics for nearly five months, the captives, by a strange irony, now are liable to become indirect hostages to American politics as well.
For the Iranian leadership seems set to strike back at President Carter and his re-election campaign for what it considers his role in saving that Shah's skin.
As far back as last December, long before the Shah's latest move from Panama to egypt, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had declared, "I give you my word, Carter will not be re-elected." And the latest decisions and pronouncements of the members of the ruling Revolutionary council underline a hardening mood that now is expected to delay until June any consideration in parliament of the hostages' release.
By then, it is reckoned here, the American presidential race will have picked up momentum, and the hardliners likely to dominate the new parliament could indefinitely prolong the hostage debate in an effort to undermine President Carter's re-election hopes.
Meanwhile, by another irony, many of the American hostages are reported here to have become quite friendly with with their militant student captors. REports filtering out from behind the embassy walls indicate that only seven or eight of the Americans are being kept in solitary confinement. There are the ones alleged to have been involved in espionage activities.
The other captives are being allowed to see and talk with one another, according to these reports, and are able to exercise, eat, and engage in recreational pastimes together. Doctors who have seen them report that they are , at least physically, unharmed.
Few other witnesses, however, and no journalists have been able to check out these reports.
The hardening mood of the Revolutionary Council is summed up in the council's decision that the Iranian leadership would make no further efforts to have the hostages transferred to its own care instead of that of the student militants. Nor can remarks made earlier by one of the council's most prominent members, Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, be taken lightly.
The flight of the Shah, said the Ayatollah, "makes the solution of the crisis more difficult." In the past, he has not played an active role in trying to solve the hostage crisis. Rather the reverse. He heads the party that has benefited most from the crisis -- the fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party.
The party is now expected to gain the largest block of seats in Majlis (parliament) elections, only the first round of which have so far been held. A further toughening of the party's stand on the hostage crisis before the end of the election could only give it another boost in popular support, and it would be naive to expect the IRP to let the opportunity slip.
On the more moderate end of the Iranian political spectrum, the two men who have been trying hardest to solve the hostage crisis, Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh and President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, have been put in a very awkward position by the Shah's latest move. Both have won the wrath of the students holding the hostages, and any further move by the pair of comparative moderates to bring about an early solution to the crisis would not serve any politically useful purpose to either.
Mr. Ghotbzadeh has already taken his punishment for one of the earlier such attempts. He lost heavily in the presidential race in January after appearing to try to use the hostage crisis for his own benefit.
Mr. Bani-Sadr, in turn, wished to end the crisis because the militants in the embassy had become a center of power that was challenging the authority of the government. But the support he managed cautiously to build in the Revolutionary Council for his move to have the hostages freed now has been undermined.
Now attention is focused on the Majlis because it has been given the authority by Ayatollah Khomeini to take a final decision on the hostages. Hopes that the Majlis would come into existence in Iran by the middle of April have been dashed.