Iran intends to hold the 52 American hostages until after the United States election in November in an effort to influence the outcome, according to fresh indications in Tehran
The latest comment was made by the Speaker of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) , Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He told a press conference Aug. 11 that "The outcome of the American election will not be without effect on the fate of the hostages."
A few weeks earlier, President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr touched on the subject in an address in Tehran. He said that when the Iranian parliament took up the question of the hostages, one of the things the deputies would have to bear in mind would be the effect on the US election.
The remarks by both leaders confirmed earlier analysis by observers in Tehran that the Iranian leaders intended to hold onto the hostages long enough to ensure (in their opinion) that President Carter would not be re-elected.
This was seen as following Ayatollah Khomeini's line. He said last December that efforts by Mr. Carter to have the hostages released were only aimed at ensuring that he would be re-elected.
The Ayatollah predicted then: "I give you my word that he will not be elected."
Ayatollah Khomeini's personal dislike of Mr. Carter stems from the time when the Ayatollah was still sitting under an apple tree near Paris, leading the Iranian revolution from France.
He believes that Mr. Carter did everything possible to insure that he, Khomeini, did not come to power in Iran after the collapse of the Shah's regime. The Ayatollah still firmly believes that Mr. Carter has been doing all he can to bring down the new Iranian regime.
The Iranian religious leader has never publicly repeated the prophecy he made in December, but he has often asserted that Mr. Carter does not really care about the hostages but simply wishes to use the issue to his own advantage in the US election campaign.
Some cynical Iranians opposed to both the ayatollah and President Carter have been spreading the idea that by holding onto the hostages, Ayatollah Khomeini has been trying to insure that Mr. Carter wins (not loses) the election.
The idea is a little farfetched, and is being spread mainly by leftist groups that wish to discredit the Khomeini regime.
The Iranian Majlis, meanwhile, continues to drag its feet on the hostage issue. It has been given the responsibility by Ayatollah Khomeini to decide if Iran should continue holding the hostages or release them -- but has not been in any hurry to debate the matter.
Speaker Rafsanjani told newsmen Aug. 11 that what may be taken up shortly is a letter sent to the Iranian parliament by 180 US congressmen July 29. The letter had asked for better relations with Iran and in particular that the Majlis should bring about a speedy solution to the hostages crisis.
Ayatollah Rafsanjani said the Majlis had a duty to reply to the letter, because of recent incidents in the United States during which demonstrating Iranian students were arrested and jailed.
"Relations with the United States," he added, "are out of the question." He also revealed that another letter had been received recently from two US congressmen but did not reveal the contents. Earlier, Ayatollah Rafsanjani had reacted to the incident in Washington by postponing consideration of the first letter to the Iranian parliament. This was followed by statements by several Iranian leaders that the hostages should be tried.
The Speaker now has indicated that a decision on whether the hostages should be tried would be taken by the Iranian parliament. He said Aug. 11: "It is not yet 100 percent certain that the hostages will be tried."
But there still is no indication when the hostage issue will be taken up in the Majlis. Two weeks ago, Ayatollah Rafsanjani said a parliamentary commission would examine the issue as an apparent first step toward a debate.
The commission idea was shelved after the Washington incident, however, and the Speaker has not talked about it sice.
Some hope has been raised that with the approval of a prime minister the next subject to be taken up by the Majlis will be that of the hostages. But this probably will not be done until after the new premier has selected his Cabinet and received a vote of confidence for it.
This process could take another several weeks at least.