With considerable bipartisan congressional support, President Carter continues to pursue a diplomatic solution to the hostage crisis in Iran. Administration officials say the President is not ruling out alternatives to diplomacy. But they add that for the time being Mr. Carter wants to nurture whatever chance remains that the United Nations commission of inquiry might return to Iran and complete its mission.
The President also wants to see what effect Iran's forthcoming parliamentary elections might have on the internal political struggle there and on Iranian attitudes toward possible release of the hostages, the officials say.
One official said the President still views the use of the military against Iran as likely to be "very counterproductive."
This official said one factor that must be taken into account is that any weakening of Iran through US-initiated economic or military action might simply play into the hands of the Iranian Left and the Soviet Union. After the invasion of neighboring Afghanistan, the US began attempting to persuade the Iranians that their real enemy was the Soviet Union and not the United States.
President Carter briefed Senate leaders on the Iranian situation March 10 and was said afterward to have been encouraged by the understanding he found among them. Their attitude, an official said, would give the President a little more time to study the situation once the five-member UN inquiry commission returns to New York to report to Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim.
Support for the President's patient approach among some senators and congressmen derives in part from the fact that none of them seems to know what he would do differently were he in the Mr. Carter's place.
"There has been a great deal of understanding on the part of the congressional leadership for the President's position," an administration official said. "No second-guessing, no backbiting -- a real display of bipartisanship."
"I think they realize that this has not been a failure of US diplomacy," he said. "It's been a failure of Iranian sanity."
None of this means that the US is ruling out alternatives that would tighten the pressure on Iran. But, as one official put it, "None of the alternatives is very pretty."
Nor does it mean that anyone has high expectations that the UN commission will be able to complete its work and thus secure release of the hostages. The prospect that the commission will find conditions favorable enough to return to Iran is described as slim.
At the State Department, spokesman Hodding Carter III said Secretary of State Cyrus Vance will talk with members of UN inquiry commission before the US decides on its next step. Mr. Carter described the work of the commission as "suspended . . . but not yet buried."
In answer to a question, the spokesman said the use of peaceful means to resolve the crisis had not been exhausted and that the question of a US naval blockade against Iran did not arise at this point. In the past, officials had mentioned the possibility of a naval blockade as a "live option."