The Shah's departure from Panama for Egypt has moved him out of immediate range of Iranian extradition proceedings. Iran had been expected to submit extradition documents to Panama "within the next few days." But even while the issue was still theoretically alive, it stirred remarkably little interest here.
The reason seems to be that few people here really expected the Shah ever to be sent home by the Panamanian authorities. And now that he has moved to Egypt, the Sha is even more clearly beyond Iran's legal grasp.
Initial hopes for extradition had been heavily dampened when the Panamanian lawyer representing Iran disclosed at press conferences here that before Panama could agree even to begin proceedings for the Shah's extradition, Iran would have to give a written undertaking that, if returned to Iran, the Shah would not be executed.
Whether there is anyone in Iran today ready to give such an undertaking is highly unlikely. And whether anyone giving such an undertaking would be able to ensure that it is honored by all groups is even more unlikely -- particularly after the occupation of the United States Embassy and other indications that President Bani-Sdar has yet to bring under his control what he describes as alternative "centers of decisionmaking."
The Iranian revolution has shown no mercy for those who have been found guilty over the past 25 years or more of crimes of murder, massacre, torture, and what is described as "plunder of the state treasury." Revolutionary justice against anyone proved guilty of even a single instance of murder, or torture leading to death, or of giving an order leading to a massacre, has been swift.
It would be difficult to imagine that if the Shah were ever extradicted to Iran he would not be quickly tried. And if he were tried he would almost certainly be found guilty and sent before a firing squad as swiftly as any of the 600 to 700 of his officials have been over the past year.
But most Iranians never really believed that Panama would extradite the Shah in the first place. In the eyes of most Iranians the decision really lay in Washington. The ordinary Iranian believes that sending the Shah to Panama was simply another another American ploy to save his neck -- his reward for having served American interests in Iran since the 1953 CIA-backed coup which put him back on the throne. When this correspondent pointed out to one Iranian student that the United States did not have the authority to decide on the extradition of the Shah when he was living in Panama, he looked at me incredulously.
"Do you think America cannot order Panama to extradite the Shah?" he asked. It was a simple as that.