By approving a bill relating to the American hostages, the Iranian parliament has taken an important step toward ending the crisis. Whether it will finally lead to an agreement on releasing the 52 Americans before the Jan. 16 "deadline" set by President Carter was still not clear at time of writing. United States officials in Washington cautioned against over-optimism, saying that they had to receive an official response to their latest proposals.
But Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher again extended his stay in Algiers, presumably to be able to respond promptly to any responses being fed back through the Algerian mediators. And one US official was reported as saying of the bill's passage:
"It's a step in the right direction; Iran is trying to come to grips with the problem."
The bill, authorizing the Iranian government to accept international arbitration to solve financial disputes with a number of United States companies , was passed quickly by the Majlis (parliament) on Jan. 14.
Iran's state radio meanwhile was reported as saying that the United States has agreed to deposit 70 per cent of Iran's frozen assets in Algeria. There was no confirmation in Washington of this report. State Department spokesman John Trattnor said there had been no agreement and no deposits.
A second Majlis bill proposing nationalization of the wealth of the late Shah and his family was deferred and will be considered by a parliamentary commission. Iran's chief negotiator, Behzad Navavi, told parliament that the nationalization bill did not directly affect the bargaining with the US.
A sense of urgency during the heated 4 1/2-hour debate was obvious. Majlis speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani beat down several attempts by a number of deputies to prolong the debate and defeat the crucial bill permitting international arbitration.
Mr. Nabavi explained to the house that some 300 American companies and corporations had filed claims against Iran in US courts. These courts, he said, had the power to hand each case over the arbitrators to find a solution, provided both parties agreed.
Included in the deal, which still must have formal approval of American and Iranian negotiators, is a document of eight articles providing for such disputes to be resolved by a nine-man arbitration team.
Said Mr. Nabavi: "There will be three arbitrators from our side, three from the US, and three from a third party which is to be an impartial international authority approved by both sides.
"We proposed Algeria as out international authority but they did not accept this because they said: 'Algeria is on your side and we cannot accept it as an impartial authority.'"
Mr. Nabavi explained to the deputies the need to solve these financial disputes to the satisfaction of both sides. It was not only Iran that had rights, he said. "They & the hostages? are human beings, too," he added.
He pleaded with the deputies: "The problem of the hostages is like a fruit from which the juice has been sucked out. Let us allow them to go."
The bill still must be signed by President Bani-Sa dr who was at the front while the debate was going on.