Hard bargaining looms as Iran mulls US reply

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

More hard bargaining between Iran and The United States can be expected before agreement on release of the US hostages is reached. That was the outlook Nov. 13 as Iranian officials in Tehran considered the US response to Iran's terms for setting the captives free.

In both countries, officials indicated that an early release of the American men and women now detained for more than a year was not likely.

Iran's official committee to deal with the US reply reportedly held a lengthly discussion Nov. 13 but, as of this writing, had made no announcement.

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Much now will depend on how strictly the Iran government and Majlis (parliament) adheres to the original four conditions, laid down by the Majis earlier this month, for setting the hostages free.

(The conditions were: an American promise not to interfere in Iranian affairs , unfreezing of Iranian assets held in the United States, return to Iran of the wealth of the late Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, and the cancellation or annulment of all American government, corporation, and private claims against Iran.)

Indications are that the US reply, delivered to Tehran by the Algerian ambassadors to the US and Iran on Nov. 12, is not a flat acceptance of Iran's terms.

According to US officials, the last two conditions in particular -- return to the Shah's wealth and cancellation of all US claims -- are believed to go beyond the constitutional powers of the US president by intervening in matters now pending before the courts. Even so, possible alternatives or compromises on these points are believed to have been included in the reply.

Some Iranians, however, are skeptical about the American legal restrictions. "If they seriously want to find a legal solution for these points, I think they can," said Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, head of the powerful Islamic Republican Party at a Nov. 12 press conference.

He added that it would be up to parliament to decide whether "one or two of the conditions are legally impossible.

Earlier, the head of Iran's central bank, Ali Reza Nobari, told Reuters news agency that the bank itself had advised on the wording of the Iranian conditions to ensure that they could be met under US law.

On the slightly more encouraging side, Ayatollah Beheshti indicated that a US explanation of its position amounted to a good start toward solving the hostage crisis. But he added that he was not certain the message from Washington contained sufficient clarification on all points.

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