The militant captors of the US Embassy have finally agreed in principle to a visit by the International Red Cross to the hostages on April 14. This was a surprise concession, but it did not prevent exasperated European ambassadors from packing their bags to return home for consultation as agreed by foreign ministers of the european Community in Lisbon last week.
A spokesman for the student captors said on April 13 that a delegation including a Red Cross representative would be allowed to see "all the spies" the following day.
Most diplomats, used to watching potential breakthroughs break down, said in effect that they would believe it when they saw it.
The Swiss Red Cross representative in Tehran said he was planning to show up at the embassy with a physician who was flying in from Geneva, but that the visit would have to be reconfirmed early april 14. This, he said, would entail student assurances that the visitors could see all the captives individually, without the captors' presence.
"That's absolutely right," said one European ambassador, who with seven other European Community mission chiefs will report back home April 14 following Iran's flat refusal of demands to release the 50 embassy hostages.
"We've been sitting around for too long. It's high time the Iranians realized the rest of the world just doesn't believe what they say" about the hostages, the ambassador said in a telephone interview with the Monitor.
Other diplomats said a joint team of European ambassadors that demanded the hostages release in an April 12 meeting with Iran's President had conveyed essentially this same message.
"I do hope the proposed embassy visit, which President [Abolhassan] Bani-Sadr promised us privately, will take place. But we are leaving anyway," said the ambassador, disclosing that this was a contigency agreed upon at the meeting of foreign ministers in Lisbon.
He added, "If things [on the hostage crisis] get better, we may come back.
"If they do not, we may move on to other measures."
He did not elaborate. Diplomats said further European steps were being discussed among European Community nations, but that no firm decision on any had been agreed.
The ambassadors or charges d'affaires of France, West Germany, Britain, Italy , the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, and Denmark were all planning to report home. The ninth European Community country, Luxembourg, does not have an embassy in Tehran.
The Europeans' recall was assured after the meeting with Mr. Bani-Sadr by envoys from Western Europe and Japan.
The Japanese Ambassador, Tokyo officials disclosed, would be reporting back April 15.
Mr. Bani-Sadr's rejection of a joint demand for prompt release of the captives, now held for 162 days, came as little surprise. Both he and the powerful Ayatollah Khomeini had made it clear the hostages' fate would be decided by a still-to-be-elected Iranian parliament.
But, however unsurprising, Mr. Bani-Sadr's rejection seemed to reinforce many diplomats' bitterness and fatigue over their largely futile efforts for a breakthrough on the embassy crisis.
The generally cautious diplomatic reaction to the students' stated agreement to the long-sought Red Cross visit stems from the fact that the militants have reneged on promises before. In mid-March, the students said they would hand over control of the hostages to the ruling Revolutionary Council. But they added an almost pouting postscript, in effect asking Ayatollah Khomeini to veto the move.