Searching for solutions to the Iran crisis

After long months of crisis, some Tehran analysts once again are focusing on how to sweeten Iranian-American relations and achieve the release of the US hostages peacefully.

One vital need, they emphasize, is for both sides to regain their calm -- and build up a measure of mutual respect.

"If we could get that, which would mean, in effect, solving this crisis in a political vacuum and an atmosphere of understanding," one European diplomat explained, "then we probably wouldn't have a crisis in the first place."

But getting Iranian officials and foreign diplomats even to define a solution of the crisis is no small feat -- especially under the cloud of pessimism that has developed since the abortive US attempt to rescue its hostages last month.

At the moment, however, all sides concerned seem to conjure up the same general picture of how to resolve the problem. The essentials are:

* Iran would free the hostages.

* The United States would in some fashion acknowledge Iran's grievances against US involvement in the 1953 Tehran coup that reinstated the Shah, and in supporting the monarch for more than 25 years before he was again deposed.

Among possible avenues for this US "acknowledgment" indicated by diplomats and more moderate Iranian officials are these:

1. A revived United Nations investigation of Iranian grievances.

2. An American congressional report that, without necessarily admitting US "guilt," could catalog American relations with Iran over the past quarter century.

3. Some form of Tehran "spy trial," with a clear understanding on all sides that US policy, not US hostages, would be in the dock.

In Iran, the US rescue attempt of April 25 was seized on as evidence of Iranian victory and American defeat, without bringing the crisis closer to resolution. The discouraging suspicion among virtually all analysts and officials in Iran is that any talk of resolving the increasingly serious Iranian-American dispute for the time being may be, as a european diplomat put it, "an exercise in science fiction."

One Western ambassador, who is among the most active officials in seeking a peaceful exit from the crisis over recent months, says, "There is no doubt that Iranian officials like President [Abolhassan] Bani-sadr and [Foreign Minister Sadeq] Ghotbzadeh are open to such things as a new UN initiative, or some other form of international investigation as a way out of the crisis.

"But," the ambassador adds, "can we assume this is a feasible option in the United States, or that Bani-Sadr and Ghotbzadeh could even bring the rest of Iran along on such a scheme?

"And can we assume this would guarantee the release of all the American hostages?"

The ambassador and many European colleagues fear that good faith is dangerously thin on both sides of the crisis, and that good faith is indispensable cement in any eventual resolution.

The resolution outlined privately by most Iranian and European observers also implies difficult substantive concessions by both Tehran and Washington.

Iran, in freeing the hostages, would be giving up what has become a prime, if sometimes ineffective, instrument in unifying a splintering revolution.

The United States, in acknowledging Iranian grievances, might in effect be taking the "super" out of "superpower" and might be setting a precedent for surrender to violations of international law.

These difficulties suggest another possible element in any resolution of the crisis, cited in different words by many Iranian and Western analysts here over recent weeks: It is an imposed period of calm, perhaps including a moratorium on US news media coverage.

Iran's expulsion of American journalists in early May, for the second time this year, conceivably could help in that regard, although it also is setting an unwelcome example for restricting foreign media access in the Middle East.

Lurking in the background, meanwhile, is the additional danger that the Iranian-US dispute could congeal into a virtually institutionalized crisis.

With all its dangers and contracdictions, a dispute in which at least 53 American lives -- and potentially many more Iranians lives -- hang in the balance may be becoming an accepted fact.

One half-hour in Tehran airport as this reporter was ending his latest stint in Iran was sufficient to bring some of the jumbled contradictions into sharp relief.

Beside me in the departure lounge were three West German television employees who had been detained for three days for filming near the captive American Embassy. In the anti-Western fervor gripping Tehran, formal charges were not necessary. None was made.

The Germans emerged from cramped, separate cells in a Tehran prison to murmured apologies that the whole to-do was an unfortunate mistake.

Minutes later, as we underwent the final stage in intensified security checks at the airport, one guard asked where I was from. "America," I said, adding in Persian with what was intended as an ironic smile, "the great Satan."

The Iranian smile back, in warmth, not irony. "I have been in New York. I really like the United States," he said. "I hope you have enjoyed Iran, and I hope you will come back."

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's face stared sternly from dozens of nearby posters. Only miles away, students militants held the US Embassy for the seventh month. Thousands of miles farther distant, American crisis managers presumably still discussed various options for freeing the hostages. European allies, however reluctantly, are gearing up for economic sanction against Iran.

The crisis, smiles aside, continues.

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