Many of Iran's new legislators want to put hostages on trial
"I believe that the predominant view of the Majlis is in favor of trying the hostages, but not by a very large majority. One can say that more than half the deputies are in favor of a trial."
The speaker was Muhammad Emami-Kashani, a newly elected deputy in the Majlis (the Iranian parliament). He was talking to a local Iranian journalist conducting a poll among the deputies shortly after the parliament was convened.
Mr. Kashani himself is in favor of trying the hostages, as were 18 others in a total of 31 polled. None of those polled actually opposed a trial, but eight said they did not know and preferred to wait for the Majlis to begin a debate on the hostages. Four others refused to answer.
The overall results of the poll suggest that President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr has been saddled with a virulently hostile parliament as far as the hostage crisis is concerned. And it would appear that he will have a difficult time trying to change the members' views.
Said Muhammad Khamenei of Mashhad: "We look at these hostages as ordinary criminals. . . . We believe that if the United States does not take sensible steps to solve the problem and does not return the Shah to Iran, we should show no compassion. They should be tried."
Another deputy from Babol said: "We should try the hostages because a trial of these people would be a trial of the United States and would reveal the policies and operations of the US Embassy in Tehran. In this way the countries of the world will come to know about the activities of the American Embassy."
Among the "don't knows" was the representative from Fasa, who told the pollster: "I think the hostages have become a difficulty and a puzzle for our country, because on the one hand we have not achieved the objective we were aiming for when we took them hostage, and on the other hand continuing to hold them creates problems for us.
"That is why we should wait and see what conditions prevail when the Majlis begins discussing the issue."
Dr. Yadollah Sahabi, the provisional speaker of the new parliament, says it will be the third week of July at the earliest before the Majlis gets around to discussing the hostage issue. Before that, it will have to draw up a new set of parliamentary rules and take up the appointment of a prime minister and a Cabinet.
This latter action is expected in the next few days, before the middle of June. The Majlis then will have to discuss the new Cabinet's program before it can give it a vote of confidence, Dr. Sahabi says, and "This debate alone will take about a month."
President Bani-Sadr, meanwhile, has been playing it characteristically cool. He seldom mentions the subject of the hostages. During the opening ceremonies of the parliament on May 28 he did not refer to them at all.
However, he has indicated that the problem is very much at the top of his mind. Three days after the new parliament was inaugurated, the Iranian President told the deputies in an address outside the house that if competing power centers (of which the militants in the US Embassy are considered a part) were permitted to continue behaving as they have in the 15 months since the revolution, "This would mean a weakening of the Majlis."
In what appeared to be the beginning of an attempt to win the deputies over to his way of thinking about the hostage crisis, he asked rhetorically: "Is the administration of the country's affairs to be placed in the hands of the Majlis, the government, and the presidency, or should anyone, anywhere, depending on his power, do whatever he pleases?"
There are indications at the same time that the Iranian President is becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the prospects of a second rescue attempt by American commandos.
He has been making frequent visits to Iranian air and naval bases in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to boost the morale of the Iranian troops and, as supreme commander of the Iranian armed forces, attended recent maneuvers in the Gulf almost within sight of US warships in the region.
He has sent his US-made Phantom aircraft on reconnaissance flights over the US fleet in the Gulf and has told the troops he would be among them more often in the future.
Clearly, the objective is to wake them out of their stupor and to prevent a repetition of the April 25 near-disaster, when the entire American rescue mission got past Iranian radar without the central authorities being aware of what was going on until hours after the mission had been aborted and the commandos had left Iranian soil.
Under the pretense of searching for narcotics smugglers, he has had Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali organize roadblocks all over the country to check vehicles. Experts believe the special squads searching the vehicles also will be on the look-out for the 96 American operatives reputed to be inside Iran already in preparation for a second rescue bid.