The top aides of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini insisted today that their leader plans to leave for home Thursday night despite all the obstacles placed in the way of his plans for a triumphant return.
"We will fly to Tehran and try to land," said one of the aides. "And if they don't let is land, we'll come back here, and that will spell the end of the Bakhtiar government."
The aide, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, said that Iranians gathering to greet their leader could be expected to break into angry rioting that would sweep away the government of Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar.
Word came from Tehran that Bakhtiar had dispatched an emissary with a letter to Khomeini. Another Khomeini aide, Abdul Hassan Banisadr, said the emissary would be seen by the ayatollah, who has always called the Bakhtiar government illegal, only if the letter contained the prime minister's resignation.
Banisadr said Bakhtiar was saying publicly that he would brave it out in office, and privately that he would resign if that would ehlp the situation.
Ther was contusion over how Khomeini would fly to Tehran. His aides repeated that they had chartered an Air France Boeing 747 jumbo jet and were encouranging journalists to sign up for the flight. An Air France spokesman said, however, that no contract for a charter has been signed, that Air France has canceled all regular flights to Tehran for the time being and that it is uncertain that a plane and crew could be readied in time even if all other problems were solved.
Ghotbzabeh said that the only reason a charter contract had not been signed was that he had not yet had time to go to Air France to sign the deal that was negotiated by his lawyers.
American reporters seeking Iranian visas were told by Khomeini's entourage to go to the Iranian Consulate Thursday morning, where they would get them without question. This followed several days in which the Iranian Embassy and Consulate insisted that they had orders to issue no visas to journalists.
The tune changed slightly after the occupation of the Iranian Embassy and Consulate yesterday by students who destroyed pictures and busts of the shah and replaced them with portraits of Khomeini.
Earlier in the day, after the ayatollah led noon prayers here, still another Khomeini aide, Ibrahim Yazdi, did nothing to assuage the growing anxieties of many journalists about flying to Tehran with Khomeini.
Calling the flight "a calculated gamble," Yazdi said there might be "shooting at the plane -- there are some crazy people there.... But all of you will be in the plane."
He demied any intention to use the journalists for protection against an attack on the plane. "We won't take you as hostages," he said. "The decision is yours. If you want to take the risk, join us."
An Iranian sitting at a card table wrote down the names of journalists wanting to go in a notebook. "Come to the airport at 8 p.m.," he said. "We may leave at 11, or maybe at 1 a.m."
A rough estimate of the cost of such a jumbo jet charter flight was $175,000 roundtrip. The charterer is normally expected to pay for the empty return flight. Khomeini's people told journalists they would be charged about $500 or $600 each.
Ghotbzadeh said Khomeini's expenses are paid by contributions from his Shiite Moslem followers in Iran.
To add to the confusion, a news agency dispatch from Athens said reservations had been booked for Thursday night at the Hotel Grande Bretagne there for the religious leader and 16 of his followers. Journalists started calling the Khomeinin entourage, accusing them of having created a smokescreen behind which the ayatollah might quietly slip into Iran on a regular flight from Athens. Ghotbzadeh called the idea of such a plan "ridiculous."