Iran is trying to defuse the hostage crisis in Lebanon, a source close to Iran's prime minister said Wednesday. ``On Tuesday morning the Iranian government contacted its Lebanese friends and urged them to postpone the execution of Mr. Ciccipio,'' the source told the Monitor.

The Shiite Muslim ``Revolutionary Justice Organization,'' which kidnapped Joseph James Cicippio in 1986, announced Tuesday a postponement of his execution, threatened for that day. It did not cite Iranian influence.

The RJO is seeking the release of Abdel Karim Obeid, a leader of the Shiite faction Hizbullah. Sheikh Obeid was snatched from his south Lebanon village by Israeli commandos last Friday. Israel has offered to trade Obeid and other Shiites it holds for Shiite-held hostages.

The Iranian source added that Iran is working behind the scene to convince hostage-takers in Lebanon to drop their idea of executing their captives in retaliation for Obeid's abduction. Another Shiite group, the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, claimed that it executed US Lt. Col. William Higgins Monday because Israel did not release Obeid.

An Iranian journalist contacted in Tehran said the crisis is being handled by on the Iranian side by a group of four persons: Ali Khamenei, successor to Ayatollah Khomeini as the nation's ``guide;'' Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's President-elect; Mir Hossein Musavi, the Prime Minister; and Abdul Karim Musavi Ardebili, the Chief Justice.

Decisions taken by the four are carried out by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati and one of his aides, Hossein Sheikholeslam. Both men are in regular contact with Iran's embassies in Beirut and Damascus.

The Iranian journalist denied that hard-line Minister of Interior Ali Akbar Mohtashemi is the main architect of Iran's policy in Lebanon.

``It is correct to say that Mr. Mohtashami has good relations with the Hizbullah leadership. It is correct to say that he advises the country's leaders on Lebanese issues. But that doesn't mean he is the decisionmaker,'' he said.

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