Without Vance, Carter policy may shift; Both Iran, US feel pushed to take tougher stand
Washington's get-tough policy on the hostage crisis has turned Iranian "moderates" into hard-liners -- and could soon leave President Carter with a single, potentially dangerous option: to get still tougher.Skip to next paragraph
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This, as worried Tehran diplomats see it, could involve a series of escalating military actions or a renewed attempt to rescue the American captives , assuming the location of all of them can be discovered.
If Washington gets tougher, however, the reaction of Iran's Soviet neighbors is at best unpredictable.
With the active cooperation of the local governor and nary a squeak so far from Iran's "moderate" President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, militant Muslim students riding a new tide of anti-American fervor said April 28 they had moved at least some of the former US Embassy hostages to the disused American consulate in Tabriz. That city is in Iran's northwest corner, only some 50 miles from the USSR.
Diplomats, by nature, do not like outlining scenarios for world wars that may never happen. Envoys in Tehran remain confident that neither Washington nor Moscow will consciously march into a confrontation over the Iranian crisis.
But their concern is that the crisis now has taken on a life of its own, and that particularly after the US attempt to rescue the hostages failed, internal political pressures in both Iran and the United States are making a negotiated resolution more difficult by the day.
The Americans are seen as increasingly unlikely to return to a route many Western diplomats have favored all along: to do nothing, or very little, and simply wait for what they see as essentially an internal Iranian crisis to sort itself out.
A restrained and lawyerly US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance has resigned. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is talking tough. Neither development is particularly reassuring to most Tehran diplomats, much less to the rapidly vanishing breed of "moderates" inside Iran.
The progressive hardening of Iran's moderates, meanwhile, seems likely to reinforce US hard-liners.
President Bani-Sadr, the French-educated economist on whom Mr. Carter once seemed to have placed all his negotiating bets, is sounding increasingly like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whom the Americans have mistrusted from the start. So is Mr. Bani-Sadr's tight circle of Western-schooled aides, some of whom reportedly have tried to argue him out of hurrying to Iran's more hard-line Muslim clerics in the past.
So when Ayatollah Khomeini called for an international tribunal on "US crimes" on April 27 -- precisely the kind of forum viewed by diplomats as a potential, if hardly ideal, way of resolving the hostage crisis not too many months ago -- one Stanford-educated aide to Mr. Bani-Sadr commented privately:
"I can't exactly say the situation is hopeless. But I can't say this is a step toward negotiation, either. It is simply a step to show the dimensions of American crime. . . . The Americans, by imposing economic sanctions and attacking Iranian territory, have shown they are looking for hostility."