Iran appeared Nov. 3 to be getting ready to release some or all of the 52 American hostages. But the growing optimism among diplomatic observers in the Iranian capital was still tempered by nagging concern that internal politics could yet upset a deal.
Ironically, neither American President Carter nor Iranian President Bani-Sadr , both of whom have pushed hard for a settlement of the hostage crisis, is likely to gain at this stage from a successful outcome.
For Mr. Carter it seems sure to have come too late. For Mr. Bani-Sadr, the religious fundamentalists have once again outmaneuvered and sidetracked him, claiming for themselves the credit for compelling the United States to accept Iran's terms.
But on the eve of the Nov. 4 anniversary of the hostages' seizure, the signs of a possible end to their ordeal included:
* The direct involvement of Ayatollah Khomeini, the one man whose word is law in Iran, in moves toward a hostages release. In a lenghtly meeting Nov. 3 with the student militants holding the hostages, the Ayatollah made it plain that they should go along with the Majlis (parliament) decision a day earlier to let the hostages go in return for US conceccions.
* The militants' announcement, after meeting the Ayatollah, that they would transfer responsibility for their hostages to Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai's government. Sources in the prime minister's office disclosed that this does not necessarily mean the physical transfer of the hostages, 40 of whom are believed to be back in the embassy compound. but the students now have committed themselves to obey the government's orders whereas earlier this year defied a similar request from relative moderates (including President Bani-Sadr).
* The apparently successful operation of a doublebarreled communication system between Iran and the United States. Outgoing messages from Tehran to Washington go via Algeria, a radical Arab state on reasonably good terms with the Iranians. Incoming messages to Tehran come via the Swiss.
In a meeting with Iranian Prime Minister Rajai nov. 3, for instance, the Swiss and West German ambassadors to Iran handed over a letter from President Carter addressed to Ayatollah Khomeini. though no details of the letter were revealed immediately, it was understood to contain a request for further clarifications on the Iranian conditions for releasing the hostages.
what was still unclear at time of writing was what stage such communications had reached. some well-in- formed diplomatic sources asserted that the Iranians were not insisting on a highly detailed American response but would be satisfied with a fairly broad acceptance in principle of their conditions. These sources suggested that the hostages could be released within a day or two if President Carter responded positvely.
Other diplomatic insiders that the situation was more complicated and might therefore be more drawn out. They pointed out that on Nov. 3 the text of the Iranian parliament's proposals had only just arrived in Washington. a formal US response was not expected until after the proposals had been studied.
"That," said one diplomat long involved in Western efforts to break the hostage deadlock, "will be the key."
Another key is the sudden turnaround of the leader of the fundamentalist forces in parliament, Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti. In recent weeks he has switched from opposing a hostages release to endorsing it. some analysts suspect that Ayatollah Beheshti simply feels he has won his long power struggle with relative Iranian moderates such as President Bani-Sadr. But they point out that Beheshti could still disengage himself from hostage-release moves should the Americans drag their feet on any of the Iranian conditions.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 3, Prime Minister Rajai appointed a commission headed by a minister of state, Behzad Nabavi, to "ensure, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, the release of the hostages once the United States has met Iran's conditions."
After a 30-minute meeting with the Algerian ambassador Nov. 3, Mr. Rajai announced that Algeria would handle the ultimate transfer of hostages to the United States. Earlier Prime Minister Rajai turned down an offer made Nov. 2 by UN-Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim to handle the release of the hostages.
Political analysts believe that the arrangements for the transfer of the hostages were agreed on through the good offices of the Algerians during Prime Minister Rajai's recent trip to ALgiers, on his return from a visit to the UN.
this, the analysts say, is a further indication of the way in which the resolution of the hostage issue has strengthened Mr. Rajai's fundamentalist government at the expense of Iranian President Bani-Sadr. Mr. Rajai had undertaken his visit to the United Nations and Algeria without even informing the Iranian President in advance.
These analysts feel that Mr. Bani-Sadr is now fighting an uphill battle against Iran's well-entrenched fundamentalist forces. They point to several technical mistakes made by Iran's head of state.
* By situating himself at the war front and promising not to return to Tehran until the war had been ended successfully, Mr. Bani-Sadr has removed himself from political events in Tehran -- not least the resolution of the hostage crisis. Hence, the fundamentalists around Mr. Rajai will be able to take credit , internationally and domestically, for resolving the hostage crisis.
Mr. Bani-Sadr appears to have had ambivalent feelings toward a resolution of the crisis -- even tough one of his close associates, Ali Reza Nobari, the governor of Iran's Central Bank, played a major role in drafting the Iranian conditions in such a way that they would be compatible to United States laws. But the President had expected Iran's fundamentalists to reject the proposed formula. by accepting the proposals, however, Iran's fundamentalists outmaneuvered him.
* Mr. Bani-Sadr, by campaigning among Iran's armed forces, hopes to rebuild his domestic power base. But political analysts believe that bad personal relations between officers in the armed forces and the increasingly influential Revolutionary Guards are bound to place serious obstacles in the way of such a strategy.
In a meeting of Iran's supreme Defense Council Nov. 3, Prime Minister Rajai (who was in the chair) attempted to weaken still further Mr. Bani-Sadr's theoretical position as supreme commander of the Iranian armed forces. The Defense Council meeting decided to appoint a member of parliament to each war front, with full authority.
Mr. Bani-Sadr strongly protested this decision, saying Nov. 3 that the commander of the ground forces, acting head of joint staff Gen. Valiollah Fallahi, Defense Minister col. Javad Fakuri, and Ayatollah Khomeini's representative on the council, Dr. Mostafa Chamran, were not present.