After more than 200 days in captivity, the American hostages are still entangled deep in the uncertainties of iranian politics. But if President Carter's rescue mission utterly failed to free the 53 captives, at least it appears to have ensured an early debate on their fate in Iran's newly elected Majlis (parliament).
For, by bringing the opening of the Majlis forward to May 28 after previously talking in terms of June or even July, the Revolutionary Council is apparently trying to forestall any second rescue bid.
Nobody here believes Mr. Carter's claims that no other rescue attempt will be made -- even though the hostages now are thought to be held in 16 or so different towns and cities, spread out in groups of two, three, or four.
True, there is no guarantee that the hostage question will be the very first item to be taken up by the Majlis. It is likely to be among the first, however, if only because Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has said time and time again that the hostages' future should be decided by the new parliament.
In addition, President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who has been a strong advocate for releasing them, is not expected to keep the issue hanging in abeyance once parliament has assembled.
Much less clear is what decision the Majlis will eventually take. It could vote to hold the hostages, or to try them, or to release them in stages, or to make their release conditional on the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the United States.
Even the actual makeup of the Majlis has yet to be disclosed. The fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party has claimed a near majority, asserting it will have the largest block of seats in parliament. But there is reason to doubt that such claims should be taken at face value.
A spokesman for the militant students holding the hostages, when asked how he thought the Majlis would vote, said in a tired voice, "Just wait and see."
One of the most prominent deputies elected to the parliament, Ibrahim Yazdi, has called for a trial of the hostages before they are released. But there has not been a chorus of acclaim or approval of the Yazdi remarks.
Mr. Yazdi was foreign minister at the time the hostage crisis erupted in November last year, and suffered a political setback when he was accused of having attempted to make compromises with the United States. He was attacked for having met US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that he should now appear to be more militant than the militants themselves.
The whole country is very jumpy about the possibility of another rescue attempt. Iranians remember that before the aborted April 25 rescue mission Mr. Carter denied that such a bid would be made, thereby contributing to Iran being taken completely by surprise.
A spokesman for the student militants, speaking to The Christian Science Monitor on the telephone, confirmed reports that the place where one group of hostages is being held -- in Kerman, on the edge of the great sand desert about 560 miles southeast of Tehran -- had been attacked by a group of unknown gunmen riding past in an automobile.
He said that this was only one of several attacks that had been made on revolutionary guards keeping watch on the planes where the hostages are being held. Similar attacks on several occasions had been made on revolutionary guards outside the American Embassy itself, and at least one revolutionary guard has been killed in these attacks, he said. But he was not able to name the other times when such attacks had been made.
President Bani-Sadr recently told a television interviewer in Tehran that, according to information he had received from the United States, 96 Americans recently had been landed in different points in Iran to carry out sabotage work. (The report was denied in Washington.) He said they were to be assisted by 19 Iranians who have lived for several years in the United States.
Analysts in Tehran believe that if these charges prove correct, the infiltrators may be here to scout out the new locations where the hostages are being held, in preparation for perhaps another rescue attempt -- if the new parliament does not show any inclination for having them released early.
But because they are so widely spread out, a second rescue bid probably would have to be planned on a much larger scale than the first, leading to an even more dangerous situation than that created by the first attempt.