Hostage transfer will test Bani-Sadr strenght
Tehran, Iran — A crucial test of the strength of the government of President Bani-Sadr relative to the militants holding the 50 American hostages in the US Embassy here is expected on Saturday, April 5.
That is all that can be said at this stage, following reports in the Persian newspaper Kayhan that two members of Iran's Revolutionary Council will be going to the embassy on Saturday to hold discussions with the student captors about transferring the hostages to the control of ther government.
However, efforts to solve the hostage impasse have often floundered before, due to Iranian internal disputes -- and this one may prove to be no exception. Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh on April 3 said the government needed further clarification of President Carter's position before transferring control of the hostages from the students. He added that for the time being no firm decision yet had been taken about the change of control.
Meanwhile, students contracted by this correspondent said it was news to them that the two council members were coming to see them, because they had not been informed about it officially.
It was clear from the Kayhan report that even the Revolutionary Council was expecting some resistance from the militants. Council member Ayatollah Muhammad Reza Mahdavi-kani told Kayhan that "in the case of a probable difference" between the council and the militants, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would step in to resolve the dispute.
Ayatollah Mahdavi-kani, however, confirmed what the militants had alreay told the Monitor earlier: that no physical transfer of the hostages would take place from the embassy premises.
The hostages, he said, would stay in the embassy and the students would "naturally" move out. But it is precisely this point that will have to be discussed with the students. They may decide it is not quite so natural for them to move out, even if representatives of the government move in to look after the hostages.
If the Imam (Khomeini) orders them to move out, of course, "we shall immediately leave the place," a student spokesman told me on the telephone.
As of now, the unknown factor is precisely what line Ayatollah Khomeini will take on the issues of the transfer. He has failed so far to make any statement whatsoever on the subject.
Ayatollah Mahdavi-kani told Kayhan that the Revolutionary Council would discuss on April 3 the "place and manner of the transfer" of the hostages from the control of the militants to that of the government.
But on Wednesday night President Bani-Sadr's cultural and press adviser, Ali Mousavi-Garmarudi, told Pars news agency that the government would take "responsibility" for the hostages in case the Carter administration met the new conditions mentioned in his Islamic Republic Day speech on April 1.
Chief among the new conditions was that the Carter administration should make an official announcement promising it will make no more provocative statements on the hostage issue till the Iranian Majlis (parliament) decided about the fate of the hostages.
If this were done, Mr. Garmarudi said, the Iranian government would take "responsibility" for the hostages to ensure their safety. But he emphasized the Iranian government would not accept any move by the American government to have the hostages released.
The question of the release of the hostages, he indicated, would remain for the Majlis to decide, and if the US government addressed any communications to Iran on this aspect of the crisis, "We will not reply."
The would be no communications whatever between Tehran and Washington, it was pointed out.
This stand was clearly being taken to dispel suspicions among the militants and their supporters that after taking control of the hostages the government would slip the hostages out of the country before the Majlis took a decision about them.
The government is reacting to past experience. When the Revolutionary Council tried to take the hostages from the students in March, the militants got their supporters to gather at the embassy to prevent the transfer.
The supporters of the militants staged demonstrations through the Iranian capital warning the public by placards and banners that the government was trying to take control of the hostages so that it could let them leave the country before the Majlis met.
The militants still have not issued an official statement for the benefit of their supporters and the press regarding the latest moves on the hostage transfer. "When we have something to say we shall issue a statement," they told me. "Whether this is broadcast on the radio or is issued another way we still do not know."
But before Saturday comes Friday, when hundreds of thousands of Muslims assemble at Tehran University for mass prayers. The students in the past have made use of the Friday prayers to whip up public support for themselves.