Iran has painted itself into a corner, That is the reaction of diplomats here to Iran's publication of its response to the American proposals aimed at ending the hostage crisis.
"By publishing this response, the Iranians are attempting to prevent further Algerian pressure and are making a modification of their position extremely difficult, if not impossible," one ambassador said.
Indeed, these diplomats are deeply concerned that the Iranian hard-line stand may force the United States to consider alternative ways of liberation the 52 Americans who have been held captive for well over a year.
"Iran has gone one step too far," a senior diplomat told the Monitor. "The Iranians are overestimating America's patience. This response is impossible for the United States to accept."
Even the Algerian intermediaries were said to be exasperated and extremely frustrated upon their departure Dec. 19. A close friend of theirs quoted them as saying: "It's like a kidnapping. You pay . . . or else."
Interviewed Dec. 21 by the London-based Arabic language newspaper As-Sharq al Awsat, Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai said: "This is our final response. We see no need for any commission to come back for negotiation on this issue. Our conditions are the final ones."
Analyzing the hard undertones of a press conference Dec. 21 by Behsan Nabawi, executive affairs minister and head of the Special Hostage Commission in Mr. Rajai's office, many diplomats here feel that Iran has lost interest in further negotiation.
"It is no problem [for us for the hostages] to remain here for many years and to be handed over to the courts," Mr. Nabawi told reponters. "If God wills they [the hostages] may give an interview [on Iranian television] on Christmas night and you will see that they are in good health. As a matter of fact they live in very beautiful quarters provided with complete services."
Mr. Nabawi appeared to be ruling out earlier Iranian suggestions that if the US met only some of the conditions, only some of the hostages would be released: "If all the conditions are met the hostages will be released; but if they do not meet the decisions according to the government's suggestions, we will turn the case over to the courts."
Stating that "We don't want to blackmail the US government," Mr. Nabawi emphasized that "there is no room for bargaining."
Earlier, Mr. Rajai in an interview broadcast by Tehran radio Dec. 20 also indicated that Iran is not prepared to budge an inch from its present position: "We should observe all the conditions set by the Majlis [parliament] word for word, and so long as all parts of the conditions are not met the hostages will certainly not leave Iran."
Iran's latest response, sent by the Algerian intermediaries by telex to Washington before their departure from Tehran, states that the United States must take the following steps prior to the release of the 52 Americans:
* The United States must issue a statement with the following wording: "The government of the United States of America hereby pledges not to intervene, from now on, directly or indirectly, militarily or politically, in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
* The US must transfer to Algeria the Iranian cash assets, valued here at a little over $9 billion, plus "the relevant interest at the standard rate as well as . . . the gold belonging to Iran." (The gold is estimated at $1 billion.)
* The US must transfer to algeria $4 billion as a guarantee for "other assets and funds of Iran at the disposal of or under attachment of the American government, American nationals, or institutions inside or outside the US."
* The US must freeze the estate of the Shah and his immediate family, forcing "its nationals and institutions to place all relevant information regarding this estate at the disposal of the US treasury." At the same time, the United States is to deposit $10 billion with the Algerian government "which is a percentage of the property of the Iranian nation plundered by the Shah and his relatives."
Speaking on Tehran radio, Prime Minister Rajai explained that Iran will be able to withdras from this deposit "any amount of the Shah's property which becomes known, and we have said that it [the US deposit] must not go below a certain level, and as soon as it drops, the US is duty-bound to replenish it."
Iran will allow Algeria to use $1 billion of the total $24 billion US transfer as an Iranian guarantee that the Islamic Republic will pay the "bonafide loan instalment on loans and credit contracted in the past." Iran and the US are first to attempt to settle US claims "through an agreement between the parties, and failing such an agreement, through arbitration acceptable to the respective parties."
Iran will guarantee the repaying of its debts with a cash deposit in Algeria of $1 billion, provided all US governmental claims against the Islamic Republic are cancelled. "This guarantee will be adjusted in such a way that it will never drop below $500 million," the Iranian response says.
Diplomats in Tehran now speak of "the failure of the hitherto most serious attempt to resolve the hostage crisis." These diplomats attach significance to the fact that the Algerian intermediaries chose to telex the Iranian response to Washington and stay in Algiers instead of travelling on to the United States.
"The Algerians are intelligent," one ambassador said. "They realize that this is, at least for the time being, the end of the road."
Both political observers and diplomats now expect the US, following a lull in the attempts to liberate the hostages, to ultimately revert back to the United Nations Security Council.
"They will tell the world that they have done everything legally and politically possible," a senior diplomat told the Monitor Dec. 21. He added that "the United States will point to the UN commission, the International Court in the Hague, and the Algerian mediation attempts. This will help create the psychological climate for more drastic action."
In an apparent attempt to counterbalance the expected US moves, Mr. Rajai, following the publication of the Iranian response, told As-Sharq al Awsat: "Everything is possible from the American side. As far as we are concerned, we set legal conditions. If something happens, it will not be our fault. We are not responsible for any American moves."