Aftershocks of Iran, Afghanistan, Camp David

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Iran, shrugging off american sanctions, has declared a "holy war" on its own chaotic economy -- and, in effect, has left the US Embassy hostages in the hands of the student militants, at least until summer.

The initial consensus among Western diplomats here was that the Us measures probably would do more harm than good for the captives.

The sanctions imposed by President Carter in Washington April 7 could make their impact felt here eventually. iran's tacit April 8 admission of its sad economic state was seen as one indication of this.

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But diplomats feared President Carter's moves would hurt Iran too little, too slowly, while also serving to strengthen the hand of hard-liners opposing any concession on the hostage issue.

Two things, some Western and Iranian analysts said, could change that picture , however:

* Full-scale war between Iran and neighboring Iraq, for which Iran's US-equipped military forces would need spare parts.

* Active, unanimous participation in the sanctions by Washington's Western allies and Japan, perhaps including a boycott of Iranian oil in the industrialized world.

To counteract this latter possibility, Iran's oil minister, Ali Akbar Moinfar , warned that any country that participated with the US in sanctions on Iran would be cut off from Iranian oil supplies.

European diplomats, meanwhile, were divided on how, why, or even whether their capitals might fall into step with Washington on the sanctions.

And although Iran and Iraq continue to sling invective across their common border, there was no indication by late April 8 that they were preparing for outright war.

"There are explanations on both sides for war. For both countries, this could be a way out of serious internal situations," commented one Arab diplomat.

"But I don't know whether either country will be rash enough to go through with this. If Iraq [a radical Arab state] fought Iran after President Carter's sanctions, it would look like the Iraqis were siding with Washington."

The US sanctions, announced shortly after midnight April 7 Tehran time, seemed to sink in slowly.

At midmorning April 8, with relations between the two countries effectively cut, the Foreign Ministry nevertheless calmly extended the visa of one America correspondent.

The ruling Revolutionary Council under President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr met twice in extraordinary session. Mr. Bani-Sadr, postponing a planned trip outside Tehran, met with provincial governors in the capital.

Iran then answered Washington.

"We consider this [US action] a good omen," said a message from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "It is the one thing President Carter has done for oppressed peoples . . . seeking liberation from international plunderers."

The gist of various official statements was that the sanctions would free Iran for what the Revolutionary Council's spokesman termed a "holy war for [ economic] independence."

He said this would mean producing more and consuming less. The Foreign Minister said it would mean an end to a rash of labor unrest launched in the name of "anti-imperialism."

President Bani-Sadr said it would mean showing "we can tolerate the economic siege." He was expected to address the nation late April 8. Iranian analysts said he might formally break relations with Washington -- a relatively meaningless step, since US diplomats here are in no position for diplomacy.

Mr. Bani-Sadr was expected to focus on attacking Iran's internal, particularly economic, problems.

Fourteen months of revolution have brought production in some sectors to a near standstill. Worker unrest is widespread. Oil output, the underpinning of an economy still thought to have several billion dollars in hard currency reserves, seems to be declining.

Iranian officials say the country is churning out some 4 million barrels a day, mostly for export, which would earn over $3 billion monthly.

But Western experts suspect the figures are grossly overstated. Even an Iranian oil workers' representative was quoted April 7 as alleging government "lies" in production claims.

He said the industry was also short on (generally US-made) spare parts, one area in which American sanctions could hurt in the longer run. Another area is, literally, chicken feed. Much of this commodity comes, often directly, from the United States.

The problem for US officials, as one Iranian chemical researcher put it to the Monitor, is that iranians "are used to making sacrifices since the revolution. . . . My feeling is that the sanctions are tough, but probably won't break anyone here."

American exports to Iran already have dipped severely in the past year. Those that do get in are often smuggled from neighboring Gulf states, a practice that could well continue regardless of sanctions.

The chemist, whose sister recently began university studies in the United States, said he was "worried about how I can get monty to her now, and whether she can stay there.

"But I don't think this kind of thing is going to make the [militant embassy] students or Ayatollah Khomeini hand over the hostages."

A student spokesman was more blunt: "The measure will only increase our determination to get the [deposed] Shah back," he said.

A statement from Ayatollah Khomeini Arpil 7 that visitors -- if accompanied by unspecified "responsible authorities" -- could meet the captives was seen by some diplomats as facilitating a return of United Nations mediators seeking a compromise solution the crisis.

But one Western diplomat commented, "Even if they do return and do see the hostages and revive efforts for a compromise, they seem likely to face the same problems as Washington.

"The main problem is that people like President Bani-Sadr, who want the crisis resolved, don't have the power to push this through."

Diplomats and Iranian commentators now feel the Ayatollah and Mr. Bani-Sadr will stick to their stated insistence that a parliament expected to convene around June will decide the captives' fate.

But with Iranian-American battle lines more clearly drawn, there seemed no guarantee the legislators would hurry to resolve the hostage crisis.

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