Iranin President Abolhassan Bani- Sadr is fighting a dogged rear-guard action to ensure that certain points are made even if the Islamic fundamentalists eventually manage a complete takeover of government in post-Shah revolutionary Iran.
Implicit is his assumption that a complete fundamentalist takeover would probably last only as long as Ayatollah Khomeini is on the scene, but that even a temporary takeover would add to Iran's woes and delay recovery from the turmoil of the revolution even longer.
In other words, Mr. Bani-Sadr seems to be staking a claim in advance for things to be done his way after the next upheaval.
Joining Mr. Bani-Sadr in this rear- guard action is outgoing Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh, even if the two men have sometimes been rivals in the post- Shah power struggle in Iran. Mr. Ghotbzadeh has given some remarkably frank and courageous press interviews over the past couple of weeks.
In one of these -- in the newspaper Inqilab Islami, close to Mr. Bani-sadr -- Mr. Ghotbzadeh said: "The [Rajai] government cannot succeed and will be able to keep itself in power only by repression. . . .Repression will deal a mortal blow to the regime. . . . If the people do not rise in revolt today, it's because it trusts the Imam [i.E. Ayatollah Khomeini]. But when the latter leaves us one day, the people will crush the oppressors."
The message from both men clearly is: The fundamentalists are going to make a mess of things. We are warning you in advance. When Ayatollah Khomeini is no longer at the helm to hold things together, you should remember that we are the people who said all along that things would not work this way.
The battle at the moment is over the Cabinet nominations of incoming pro-fundamentalist Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai, virtually forced on Mr. Bani- Sadr as the new head of government by the fundamentalist Islamis Republican Party (IRP) the latter controls the parliament.
Mr. Bani-Sadr is stalling in giving his approval to Mr. Rajai's ministerial choices -- an approval needed under Iran's new Constitution. His apparent aim is to warn Iranian public opinion, before it is too late, that day-to-day government in a country such as Iran -- a country with a sophisticated oil industry and which is started on the road to development -- cannot be effectively run by:
1. Men without previous administrative experience whose prime qualification for ministerial office is their reputed commitment to the most fundamentalist interpretation of Shia Islam. Examples are proposed interior minister Ayatollah Muhammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, a Shia clergyman, and layman Hussein Moussavi, till now editor of the IRP's daily newspaper but tapped by Mr. Rajai for the Foreign Ministry.
2. Men whose very youth -- such as Mr. Rajai's 27-year-old nominee for the Oil Ministry, Asghan Ibrahimi -- raises the question of their being the best suited for their jobs.
The credentials of both Mr. Bani-Sadr and Mr. Ghotbzadeh as anti-Shah revolutionaries and supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini are good. They both chose exile during the latter part of the Shah's rule. Both were at Ayatollah Khomeini's side in Paris before the latter made his triumphal return to Iran on Feb. 1, 1979.
But to those who have seized control of the revolution since the Ayatollah's return, Mr. Bani-Sadr and Mr. Ghotbzadeh have these strikes against themselves:
* They are too secular and have been exposed to corrupting Western influences in France or the United States.
* They are in their 40s -- a discredited generation both to the bearded elderly clerics and the youthful generation that seized the American hostages and is still holding them after more than 300 days.
And what of the hostages and US Secretary of State Edmund Muskie's latest approach in their behalf to Mr. Rajai? It should perhaps be noted how Mr. Ghotbzadeh replied to a Time magazine query on the Rajai government's chance of success: "If the hostage problem is solved, it will have some slight chance of success. Otherwise it won't get anywhere."