Iran frees US reporter despite signs of internal opposition

Iran released American reporter Gerald Seib from prison yesterday amid signs of confusion and a conflict of views within the Iranian government about his case. Mr. Seib, the Wall Street Journal correspondent arrested here Saturday on espionage charges, was handed over to Swiss Embassy officials around noon yesterday. Seib is expected to leave Iran on the first available commercial flight. The Associated Press reported that the journalist would be expelled today.

Seib's release to the Swiss Embassy was not publicly reported in Iran. A highly placed Information Ministry source said this was because Tehran feared some Iranian elements might criticize or oppose the release. Some militantly anti-American elements in the government had reportedly expressed displeasure that United States reporters were allowed into the country in the first place. The source said public announcement of Seib's freeing would be withheld for the reporter's own protection until he was safely out of the country. [A Monitor correspondent recalls his own expulsions from Iran. Page 13.]

The only official indication of Seib's freeing came from Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi, who was quoted on Radio Tehran as saying Seib would be ``expelled'' within the next few days. Asked about this report, the Information Ministry source reconfirmed that Seib had already been released.

The ministry source said Seib's release involved no deal of any kind with the US. The Reagan administration's ``reasonable approach,'' he said, and the ``unique efforts'' of Swiss Ambassador Heinrich Reimann, played major roles in Seib's release.

The precise reason for the decision to free Seib is not clear, but the official emphasized the action was unconditional.

He told the South-North News Service that Seib's detention was the result of ``mistakes and misunderstandings'' on the part of Iranian authorities.

But he alleged that Seib had violated several regulations during his 10-day stay before being seized last Saturday. Seib was one of a group of foreign correspondents invited to visit Tehran to tour the Iran-Iraq war front. The official charged that Seib's behavior was ``far from his duties as a journalist.''

Seib was held in Evin prison under the authority of the Information Ministry, which in actual fact functions much like an intelligence agency.

Some political observers and foreign diplomats here expect Seib's release to improve prospects for reestablishing ties with the US, though they add it is too soon to resume official diplomatic relations. They maintain that Washington should understand that only Iran can solve the US's difficulties in the region and should take steps to prove that it is not acting as Iran's enemy.

First Iranian reports of Seib's arrest charged that he was spying for the the US, Israel, and Iraq. It had been widely expected he would be tried as a spy.

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