While Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini moves to consolidate power in Iran's new Islamic government, State Department and intelligence officials say it is not clear that the new leaders can compel Iran's oil workers to increase production quickly.
Without cooperation from the Tudeh (communist) Party and other radical groups in the oil fields, Carter administration officials say, Iran will continue to remain outside the ranks of the oil exporters, spurring the industrial nations toward a potentially serious oil shortage.
Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger yesterday underlined this concern in testimony on Capitol Hill. "There is no assurance they [the oil workers] will respond" to urging from the Khomeini government to resume major oil production, he told a House Commerce subcommittee.
In one of the bleakest assessments offered by the administration, Schlesinger said "control in the oil fields belongs to certain radical groups and the Tudeh party," and that workers' response to earlier pleas from Kjomeini and Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan to produce oil for internal needs was "at first reluctant."
"We must recognize the forces in control of the oil fields may not be responsive to guidance from Tehran" should it order increased production, the secretary said.
From Tehran yesterday, Washington Post correspondent William Claiborne reported that while the Tudeh party claims to have almost total control of Iran's 15,000 oil workers, there is evidence the claim is exaggerated.
Meanwhile, State Department officials say that Exxon executives now believe that Iran could increase oil production to 4 million barrels a day within one month, and 5.5 million barrels a day in three months, without assistance from foreigners. Iran was producing up to 6.5 million barrels of oil daily before the political turmoil forced a shutdown in exports six weeks ago.
Other major oil companies that operated in Iran have told the State and Energy departments that it could take three months for Iran to restore oil production to 3 million barrels a day. These companies also said that without the 1,000 foreigners, mostly Americans, who supervised oil production, Iran will be unable to produce more than 4 million barrels of oil a day.
Yesterday Schlesinger repeated statements that Iran is "unlikely" to return to its previous production level, which saw it supply 10 percent of the world's oil needs and earn $70 million a day in foreign exchange as the oil cartel's second-ranked exporter.
State Department officials say a significant number of the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 Tudeh party members work in the oil fields. Intelligence analysts, meanwhile have told President Carter that the Marxist group has as many as 20,000 "sympathizers" in Iran. The Tudeh party broadcasts to its Iranian followers from a radio station in the Soviet Union.
In addition to the Tudeh party, two radical groups, The Peoples Sacrifice Guerrillas and The Peoples Strugglers, both self-styled Islamic Marxists, have small cells operating among the oil workers. The groups are described by analysts as "very small, but well-disciplined and well-organized," and have claimed credit for assassinating U.S. and Iranian officials.
Schlesinger said yesterday that by June the world could face a crisis equal to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo unless Iran restored production to make up for the net loss of 2 million barrels a day in world oil production.
However, in a nationally televised news conference Monday, President Carter said there is "no immediate danger" to the United States from the oil shortage. The president also said that the upheaval in Iran has not produced a "crisis."
During yesterday's Commerce subcommittee hearings, Rep. Albert A. Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) said, "We have had four separate statements out of the administration" in recent weeks, resulting in public cynicism toward the president's appeals for voluntary energy conservation.
In response, Schlesinger said "there are no differences" between the Energy Department's analysis and statements by Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal before the Senate Budget Committee last week.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), the subcommittee chairman, chided DOE for saying that "up-to-date information on the movement of world oil supplies is unavailable."
Prodded by House members who favor oil price decontrol, Schlesinger said the administration has not decided whether to raise oil prices when controls can be lifted in June.
Schlesinger also said it was not likely that gasoline would sell for $1 a gallon within a year, as Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) said Sunday.
Replying to a question from Rep. Al Swift (D-Wash.), Schlesinger argued against efforts in 10 state legilatures to lift the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit, saying, "This is not the time to reconsider" it.