Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in a message read to thousands of Revolutionary Guards from a roof in the occupied US Embassy compound, has escalated support for an Iranian President who wants the American hostages sent home.
But relative moderates, such as President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh, remain odd men out. Their advice to President Carter , reflected by the foreign minister hours before the June 16 embassy demonstration, seems to be that there is no quick fix for the United States-Iranian crisis, that the road to freedom for 53 Americans held since last November still has its potholes.
The Iranian President and foreign minister have gone out of their way to dampen Western hopes that a hostage "spy trial" or a resumed United Nations initiative might somehow bring the release of the captives in return for an Iranian propaganda victory.
The militants holding the embassy again raised the issue of a trial June 16.
"If a trial of the hostages is similar to the trial of the agents of the former regime, one does not know what will happen," President Bani-Sadr told a Tehran newspaper recently.
Foreign Minister Ghotbzadeh told reporters June 16 that a recent Tehran conference on "US intervention in Iran" had helped reduce "tension" between Iran and the United States, and expressed hope the trend would continue.
But even as a Syrian United Nations envoy concluded a quiet three-week diplomatic mission to Tehran, Mr. Ghotbzadeh cautioned against linking the initiative to a hostage release.
He held out little hope UN envoys could visit the hostages. He pressed for publication of a UN report on US links with the Shah, withheld so far because a hostage visit had been prevented, and added:
"We don't recognize the competence for them [the UN envoys] even to discuss the hostages any more."
Western diplomats who know President Bani-Sadr and Mr. Ghotbzadeh remain convinced both want the hostage issue resolved.
"It's hard to run the country, much less an effective foreign policy, as long as the hostage time bomb remains," one diplomat said.
The President still seems to hope he can gradually consolidate power, resolve the hostage issue, and turn his energy to rebuilding what is left of the Iranian economy.
Ayatollah Khomeini, clearly alarmed at recent fundamentalist street violence, has been helping Mr. Bani-Sadr. The latest boost came June 16 in a message read by the Ayatollah's son to a throng of Revolutionary Guards, often beyond the control of a president named commander of the military by the Ayatollah in February.
"It is your sacred Islamic duty . . . to obey the commander in chief, whom I named," the message said.
"Long live Bani-Sadr," came the thunderous response from the guardsmen a few minutes later.
"Long live Ayatollah Khalkhali," a part of the crowd added, hailing a controversial Islamic judge not always in step with Mr. Bani-Sadr.
Divisions remain. Words of support from Ayatollah Khomeini for his newly elected President in February could not heal the rifts and rivalries. The words , Iranian analysts note, were never really followed up.
For a while, fundamentalists under the banner of Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti's Islamic Republican Party (IRP) did seem to go along with the President. But only for a while.
Chastened by renewed Khomeini support for Mr. Bani-Sadr, Ayatollah Beheshti's supporters seem again to have decided to lie low. The IRP's newspaper suggested June 16 a truce in the escalating war of words between the President and his rival.
But the IRP still controls the largest cohesive bloc in Iran's new parliament , the body empowered by Ayatollah Khomeini to resolve the hostage issue. The parliament must also approve the President's choice for prime minister.
Tehran diplomats, still skeptical the President can secure effective control of the country, suspect the final answer to that question may come in Iran's Islamic revolutionary legislature.