ANY PROGRESS IN US-IRANIAN TIES LINKED TO RELEASE OF US HOSTAGES IN LEBANON

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For the US, the primary obstacle to improved ties with Iran remains the nine US hostages in Lebanon. ``Iran could do a lot more on the US hostages,'' consultant James Placke says. ``It's not clear they could get them all out. But they haven't done much of anything.'' ``However clouded things may seem in Tehran, if all the factions got together they could still make things happen for most, if not all, of the hostages,'' adds a senior US official with access to all US intelligence on the hostage situation. ``This is especially true of Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi and the Revolutionary Guards.''

More troubling are reports that Iran's Revolutionary Guards played a role in the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland last December. If those reports are confirmed, Washington would be under great pressure to retaliate.

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