The latest hitch in the nomination of a prime minister in Iran suggests that the hard-liners -- the religious fundamentalists -- are trying to head off any exploitation by moderates of the situation produced by the passing of the Shah.
A Tehran radio broadcast monitored in Washington said President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr had asked the Iranian parliament to let his nomination of Mostafa Mir-Salim as prime minister "lie dorman."
Mr. Mir-Salim is a member of the hardliners' Islamic Republican Party (IRP); but he is a maverick or independent within the party. Apparently this made him acceptable to the moderate Mr. Bani-Sadr but potentially unacceptable in the last resort to the hard-core IRP members who control parliament.
Till now the Iranian revolution has run the classic course for revolutions set out nearly half a century ago by Harvard historian Crane Brinton. Based on his analysis we see there are two competing sovereignties: the premiership of Mehdi Bazargan (till November 1979) and the presidency of Mr. Bani-Sadr (after February 1980) competing with the extremist and partially mysterious Revolutionary Council and its local offshoots. We have had the "reign of terro and virtue" -- to use a phrase applied to the harshest period of the French Revolution -- with its executions of alleged counterrevolutionaries and sexual and drug offenders.
The question now is: Are we coming up to the Iranian revolution's "Thermidor"?
Thermidor is the revolutionaries' name for the month -- July 1794 -- when French society, so long in turmoil after the fall of the Bastille in 1789, began to tire of excesses and started its move back toward relative tranquility and order. This process was capped by the emergence of a strong central figure in the person of Napoleon Bonaparte. The equivalent in Britain in the preceding century was the Roundhead rule of Oliver Cromwell after the turbulence of the Civil War and the execution of Charles I.
Clearly the extremists in Iran are maneuvering to head off what for them would be a premature Thermidor. They want neither the confirmation of Mr. Mr-Salim as prime minister nor the passing of the Shah to start a process of readjustment or compromise that might usher in a Thermidor.
Presumably they are equally concerned about the emergence of a potential Iranian Bonaparte or Cromwell. This may explain their recent drive against Admiral Ahmad Madani, who trailed Mr. Bani-Sadr in the presidential election earlier this year. He probably would not be averse to filling the Bonaparte/Cromwell role.
The United States, of course, has an interest in beginning an Iranian revolution Thermidor as soon as possible -- not least because that ought to expedite release of the 52 hostages held captive since last November. When the hostages were first seized, their captors said they were being held to secure the return of the Shah to Iran to face trial. With the latter's passing, this demand has lost its relevance.
But the word from Tehran is that revolutionary Iran still wants to get its hands on that part of the late Shah's wealth that is in the US. Washington's response to this is in effect conciliatory, with the apparent intent of giving the extremists as little ammunition as possible. A State Department spokesman made a point of reiterating July 28 that the US government would put nothing in the way of Iran's now going to court in the US to try to secure title to the deceased Shah's wealth.
In a similar concilatory context should be seen both the correct but noncommittal White House statement of condolence on the Shah's passing and the low-level official US representation at the Shah's funeral in Cairo July 29. Representing President Carter was the US Ambassador to Egypt, Alfred Atherton. (The British and French governments were similarly represented by their heads of diplomatic mission in Cairo.) With a former Republican US President, Richard Nixon, at the funeral in a personal capacity, the current Democratic US President could hardly have afforded in this election year to send nobody at all in final tribute.