Iran "hopes to release all seven American women held hostage at the U.S. Embassy within the next couple of days," Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a member of the ruling Revolutionary Council, said today.
Ghotbzadeh cautioned, however, that the move was dictated by purely humanitarian principles and did not mean that all the hostages would be released. About 60 americans and about another 50 non-American employes were taken captive at the embassy Nov. 4 by militant students.
The change in Iranian attitude was ordered after the Revolutionary Council became aware recently of the controversy about the conditions of the hostages' detention, he said.
Iran's ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was reportedly incensed by the fact that he was not aware until recently that the hostages may have been maltreated.
The complaints had been made known to the Revolutionary Council by the diplomatic community.
Informed sources said that for equally humanitarian reasons the Revolutionary Council might also release all of the non-American hostages at the embassy.
Starting today or Friday, Ghotbzadeh said, a member of the council will "most probably" begin visiting the hostages on a daily basis. A foreign ambassador also will be invited to see the hostages daily, he suggested.
"So far there has not been any mistreatment, as such," Ghotbzadeh said.
But he said that "we're doing everything possible to do away with" the blindfolds and binding of hands.
There had been indications yesterday that the Iranian government suggested the militants release the non-Americans. But there was no indication they would do so.
[A State Department spokesman in Washington said he had received no word of the possible release.]
It was the first hopeful sign in the dramatic stalemate. Tensions rose yesterday when the Carter administration froze Iranian government assets in the United States after it was learned Tehran was planning to withdraw them from U.S. banks.But Iran made it clear yesterday that its decision to withdraw billions of dollars in government funds was dictated more by political than by economic motives.
Besides pressuring the United States, Iran's foreign minister Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr indicated the Iranian revolutionary regime wanted to punish David Rockfeller, chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, in whose European branches "the greater part" of Iran's foreign reserves are deposited.
Rockefeller and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who was also signled out for criticism, were in the forefront of the campaign to allow Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi into the United States for medical treatment last month.
Announcing Iran's decision to withdraw its funds from U.S. banks, Bani-Sadr, acting in his additional capacity as finance minister, told reporters, "This is the moment to get rid of the centuries of American domination."
"We do not have any anxieties about the legal, or rather illegal, powers of the American government to block this money," Bani-Sadr said.
His confidence appeared based on the knowledge that most of Iran's reserves could not be seized by Washington since they were deposited in European branches of U.S. banks, which abide by the law of their host countries. Bani-Sadr said privately three days ago that Iran's reserves are deposited largely in Britain, France, West Germany and Switzerland.
In a moderate response to President Carter's retaliatory decision to freeze Iranian assets in U.S. banks, Ghotbzadeh, also national television chairman, said yesterday "If another country made such a decision with regard to U.S. assets, the United States would strongly condemn it."
Although Bani-Sadr said the decision to shift foreign reserves from American banks had been approved Tuesday night by the Revolutionary Council, a senior officer in the central bank's foreign exchange office appeared to have been caught off guard by yesterday's announcement. "I had to send a boy out for a newspaper to find out what was going on," he said.
Bankers here said the Iranian move was not expected to cause more than short-term disruption in the world banking system, which, as a matter of course, might paradoxically recycle the funds to American banks.
Bani-Sadr said Iran's reserves would be transferred to banks in countries that "have good relations with us and want to work with us." He indicated those would be countries "that have not bothered us over contracts signed during the shah's reign and dragged us from courtroom to courtroom over these things . . . countries with good will to finish with the past and begin a new day."
He specifically referred to problems linked to the shah's ambitious nuclear energy program. Since the revolution last February the revolutionary authorities have canceled French nuclear projects and are considering canceling four West German plants much nearer to completion.
What its effective impact, the transfer of reserves appeared calculated to boost even further the growing popular support here for the anti-American campaign, which has given Iran's recently moribund revolution a new lease on life.
Once the Revolutionary Council and Khomeini acquiesced to the radical Islamic militants' takeovers of the American Embassy, relatively few political weapons remained in the Iranian arsenal.
Analysts credit the Revolutionary Council with prudent management of the crisis in recent days and express the belief the council is very much in control.
Seen from that viewpoint, the Iranians have reacted with relative moderation since Carter beat them to the punch in boycotting their oil before they could declare an embargo on American sales.
In the past 48 hours they also have banned American aircraft from flying over Iran, announced Iran would maintain its oil production of 3.7 million barrles a day and played down their request for support from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Some observes have argued Iran could do little else because:
Banning overflights was a retaliation for American airport workers' refusal to handle Iran Air flights in New York.
Cutting oil production could have hurt the United States and other consumer countries, but would have risked upsetting OPEC production plans and reduced Iran's income.
Major OPEC members -- especially Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates -- are unlikely to rally around a regime they fear wants to export its revolution to their own Shiite Moslem populations.
He was careful, however, to make no promises in the light of the unbending opposition of the hostages' radical Islamic captors.