The situation over the 50 American hostages in Iran now is described by the No. 2 man in the US State Department as "somewhat promising." Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Feb. 7 on NBC television:
"I wouldn't say there is a deal in the making . . . . We have hopes, but I wouldn't want to create false expectations."
Mr. Christopher's cautious qualification reflects an apparent State Department desire not to embarrass newly installed Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr by giving his domestic foes ammunition to use against him.
These foes would be only too glad to get their hands on evidence from Washington that Mr. Bani-Sadr was making a deal for the release of the hostages, or that the Carter administration was glad Iranians voted him into the presidency.
Mr. Bani-Sadr now is engaged in a showdown with the student hostage-holders, determined to prove that he, not they, is in charge, following his election with 75 percent of the poll in the Jan. 25 presidential balloting. His enemies at home include the hard-line fundamentalist clergy and the extreme left, both of whom can be expected to make tactical common cause with the hostage-holders.
To buttress his effort to take charge, Mr. Bani-Sadr has something going for him no less important than his sweeping popular mandate. That is the support of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, religious "guardian" of the land under the new Constitution.