Bani-Sadr says he has plan for freeing hostages

Iran's new President claims he has a secret plan for gaining the release of the 50 American hostages held in Tehran.President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr said in a radio interview Wednesday that the plan had been approved by Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he provided no details.

Other current signs that the hostage crisis is nearing resolution are:

* In Tehran, the secretary of the Revolutionary Council, Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, said Wednesday that the problem might be resolved before the parliamentary elections, recently postponed from March 8 to March 14.

* In Washington, State Department spokesman Hodding Carter III refused Tuesday to make any comment on reports that things were moving forward on the hostage question. He said official comment "on each proposal, suggestion, and rumor . . . is neither necessary or productive."

Presumably Mr. Carter's reticence was to avoid jeopardizing behind-the-scenes negotiations for release of the 50 hostages held at the US Embassy in Tehran. Informed opinion from the United Nations is that whatever is being worked out is not likely to bear fruit for at least a couple of weeks, Monitor correspondent Geoffrey Godsell reports.

The formula for releasing the hostages turns on a proposal intended to satisfy the pride and the demands of Iran's revolutionary leadership: an international tribunal or commission to hear charges against the ousted Shah for misdeeds while he enjoyed US patronage.

Iran's new President, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, told the French newspaper Le Monde that return of the Shah to face trial in Iran was not a prerequisite for release of the hostages. But Iran, he said, would continue to insist on the Shah's extradition from Panama, where the monarch now lives in exile.

Ayatollah Beheshti's statement about the possibility of the hostages' release in the coming weeks is particularly significant. It implies that President Bani-Sadr has gained the concurrence of both the Revolutionary Council and of Ayatollah Beheshti himself to a negotiated compromise settlement of the crisis.

Until now, both the Ayatollah and a majority on the council were thought to be hard-liners, likely to resist moves by Mr. Bani-Sadr toward moderation.

Mr. Bani-Sadr's next step is to get the concurrence, or at least the compliance, of the hostage-holders in freeing the captives on terms short of their original demand: the handing over of the Shah in return for the hostages.

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