Washington — The Iranian militants holding some 50 Us citizens hostage in Tehran still insist that the Shah must be returned to their country, says an American Indian activist who visited the US Embassy where the Americans are being held and is on good terms with their captors.
John Thomas, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), hand-carried 151 letters from 40 hostages to their families in the United States. He says he plans to return to tehran soon, carrying mail back from the families and, in the words of Russel Means, another AIM leader, "with some good hopes of securing liberation of one or more of the hostages."
Mr. Thomas was allowed to see one of the American prisoners, Joseph Subic Jr. , who, he said, authenticated the letters before handing them over to him in the presence of the Iranians.
Two of the hostages whose names were signed to letters, Mr. thomas said, are Thomas L. Ahern Jr. and William Daugherty, both of whom the Iranian militants have denounced as CIA agents.
With two other apparent letters writers, W. E. Belk and Robert Blucker, Mr. Ahern and Mr. Daugherty are believed to be among the seven Americans not seen by three US clergymen who visited the embassy last Christmas and said they saw 43 out of 50 hostages.
Mr. Thomas, a Dakota Indian prominent in AIM since federal officers besieged Indians at wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973, says he believes his travel to Iran, past and future, is not viewed sympathetically by the White House or the US State Department. Administration officials are noncommittal about this.
After delivering some of the letters in Europe and New York, Mr. Thomas arrived in Washington Jan. 19 to ditribute mail for local families of hostages through the Union Methodist Church here. In a telephone interview with the Monitor, he said he believed the US government might have withheld some of the letters hostages sent through the postal system to their families -- a charge denied by administration officials.
Originally, Mr. Means was invited to represent AIM at a conference of world liberation movements in Tehran. When administration officials refused to ease terms of the parole Mr. Means is on from a South Dakota prison sentence, Mr. Thomas attented in his place. also represented were revolutionary groups from Africa, including representatives of Robert Mugabe's Rhodesian Patriotic Front; the Arab world, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Latin America.
Mr. Thomas said that when he was admitted to the embassy compound in Tehran, he met Mr. Subic and "had a conversation of about five minutes, limited to greetings and accepting mail and his giving me mail from 40 of the hostages."
He said Mr. Subic wore clean camouflage fatigues, had grown a beard, and appeared in good health. "He was surprised to see me and deeply appreciated our concern," he added. "He was very friendly, and happy to be getting the mail.
"When I told him, 'You have our deepest sympathy. Our people [American Indians] have been held in bondage for 150 years by the US government," he answered, "I know. Thank you for coming.'"
The Iranian captors -- Mr. Thomas calls them "students" and insists he saw no nonIranians among them -- "asked many questions about the American Indian Movement, our treaty arrangements with the US government, and our relations with American blacks. They are not negotiating with the US government in any shape or form for release of the hostages," Mr. Thomas said. "The Shah has simply got to be returned first.
"I described the genocide policies of the US government which make Indians still the bottom rung of the American social ladder," he added. "I agreed with the Iranians that we have a common enemy: the US government."
Above all, Mr. Thomas asserted, he has "opened a door of communication between the American people and the Iranians. Our aim is to protect human life. I'll try to keep the mail moving and so alleviate some of the mental anguish."
He suspects hostage mail was held up by US authorities, "because as soon as I arrived here and began delivering letters, other hostage families suddenly began to receive mail postmarked in Tehran back in December."