US looks beyond hostage release
With the release of the 52 American hostages now almost achieved, President-elect Ronald Reagan seems likely to be left with considerable breathing space before he has to do anything about the vexing problem of iran.
This is the view of a number of American political scientists, historians, and other experts on Iran who are trying to look beyond the expected hostage release to what happens next. Mr. Reagan, they believe, has the time to think it through.
The political scientist say that the incoming President will be under little pressure to react to continuing stress in United States relations with Iran, not just because the hostages will have been released but also because the American public's desire to seek retribution against Iran has diminished.
Some political scientists are advising Mr. Reagan to pursue a hands-off, go-slow policy with Iran for at least the next half year or so. They do not think the Soviet Union, which, of course, is the main US concern, is in a position to make any quick profit from Iran's current internal troubles.
Iran's Pars News Agency quoted the chief Iranian negotiator, Behzad Nabavi, as saying on Jan. 18 that Iran and the US had reached final agreement on the hostage issue. But Mr. Nabavi qualified his remarks by saying there remained "several wholly trivial points" to be agreed upon and that there now were absolutely no reasons for preventing an "eventual solution."
In separate television interviews, Vice-President Walter Mondale and President Carter's national security assistant, Zbigniew Brzezinski, asserted on Jan. 18 that there were still one or two discrepancies to overcome in the US-Iran negotiations. They indicated that these could conceivably produce an obstacle or at least delay implementation of an agreement.
Mr. Mondale, speaking on the ABC program "Issues and Answers," said one of the differences had to do with the total figure for Iranian assets that had been frozen by the United States. Figures proposed by the two sides were now in the "close range," Mr. Mondale said. The other issue was apparently a legal one.
With negotiations continuing, it was still possible that the release of the hostages could be achieved before Ronald Reagan's inauguration on jan. 20. Mr. Reagan told reporters on Jan. 18 that he would back any deal made by the Carter administration that secured the hostages' freedom.
The Soviet Union was clearly unhappy with the prospect of a US-Iran accomodation, which a hostage release might permit over the long run. The Carter administration on Jan. 17 denounced the Soviets for publishing radio and newspaper reports that asserted that the US was preparing to attack Iran.
A State Department spokesman said the Soviet allegations appeared to be designed to affect the outcome of the current hostage negotiations being conducted by the US and Iran through Algerian intermediaries. Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie called in the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, to complain.
Carter administration experts think the release of the hostages will reduce chances for the Soviet Union to exploit differences between the US and Iran. But they also foresee a considerable strain in relations between the US and Iran for some time to come. The two nations do not even have diplomatic relations.
Thomas Ricks, a Georgetown University historian, predicts that once the hostages are freed there may be a lull in recriminations between the two countries but that there will eventually be more confrontation to come. Iran, he says, will pursue an "anti-imperialist" line at the United Nations and elsewhere.
The one thing that many political scientists and historians seem to agree on is that the US and Iran have a common strategic interest in maintaining the unity of Iran in the face of outside pressures.
"Logically, relations between the two countries are imperative for strategic, economic, and other reasons," said William Royce, A historian at the University of Arizona. "But this will depend on the internal politics of the two countries."
Marvin Zonis, a Middle East expert at the University of Chicago, advises the incoming administration to assume a cool attitude toward Iran following release of the hostages.
"I would take a very distant attitude," said Mr. Zonis."I would put the onus on the Iranians to resume relations. . . . It's time we communicated to the Iranians that they need us more than we need them."
One development that could set the stage for an eventual US-Iran accomodation is the apparent diminishing in the United States of any desire for retribution against Iran. Mr. Royce thinks this may simply be the result of public weariness with the hostage crisis.
Mr. Zonis thinks there is more to it than that.
"It's almost as if people have in some way worked this thing through," he said. "I have a suspicion Carter paid for it. . . . His election defeat can be tied to his failure to free the hostage."