Tehran and the United States appear so intent on playing to their home audiences that they have succeded chiefly in complicating the U.S. hostage crisis and deepening mutual suspicions.
If nothing else, Iran's revolutionaries and President Carter are struggling to prove their mastery in the face of difficult odds.
Cultural differences are so deep-seated that grievances accumulated over the years are gushing out in one country with potentially disastrous repercussions for the other.
The differences involve a super-power worried about becoming a pitiful, helpless giant and a genuinely revolutionary regime seething with long-suppressed national resentment and determined to rally support by playing David to America's Goliath.
Carter's actions -- boycotting purchases of Iranian oil and freezing Iranian assets -- may seem to Americans the very least the United States could do to help achieve the release of the hostages held at the American Embassy.
But the Carter approach has only stiffened the resolve of the hostages' radical Islamic captors not to give an inch for fear of seeming to buckle under superpower pressure.
Consider the evidence: two of the calmer members of the ruling Revolutionary Council, Foreign Minister Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr and raido-television director Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, both hinted yesterday that the detention conditions would be improved and all but white American male hostages released within a few days.
The students refused.
Although both leaders argued that their concern was purely humanitarian, it was clear they hoped that any such gesture would be reciprocated by Washington.
Successive scaling down of Iran's conditions has produced no known positive response from Washington, although Iranian officials are no longer demanding the unconditional extradition of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to stand trial here.
Futhermore, Iranians now seem convinced that the American retaliatory moves prove American duplicity.
"Our olive branch was obscured by U.S. retaliation," an Iranian leader said.
Steeped in conspiracy theories, Iranians charged the U.S. government's efforts to freeze their reserves in European branches of American banks is blatant superpower misbehavior.
They argue that those banks must honor the laws of their own countries of domicile rather than American dicta.
What Iranians denounce as high-handed American behavior, moreover, is being used to argue that other Third World Countries -- or even Europe or Japan -- may not be immune to such humiliating treatment at Washington's hands in the future.
The Iranian revolutionaries seem genuinely confused by the nearly unanimous public indignation in the United States caused by the seizure of the embassy hostages.
They profess astonishment at American callousness in blithely assuming that the shah's arrival in the United States -- long the protector of the dynasty and in Iranian eyes associated with its authoritarian excesses -- would be accepted as a normal courtesy offered a cancer patient.
The proposal to release the three or four black American hostages -- as well as seven women and eight non-Americans -- was dictated by the belief that American minorities could bring pressure to bear on Washington.
The foreign minister has accused the U.S. government of censoring the press by way of explaining the lack of response to his appeal to Americans to rise up and force a freely elected president to hand over the ailing shah.
But in the midst of a revolution, the Iranians are also tempted by the precedent of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators' pressures on past adminstrations to try to mobilize American opinion against the shah and Carter.
Yet, beyond the basically public relations nature of the American and Iranian tit-for-tat measures of the past week like the seeds of more serious and long lasting repercussions.
Iran's decision to no longer accept dollars in payment for its oil, for example, could be the beginning of the end for the American currency's once universal acceptability in oil transactions.
Bani-Sadr makes no secret of his hostility to both superpowers. He has said, "If my strategy succeeds, Japan and Europe will become the economic center of the world -- not the United States."
At the same time there is a conviction that the cards are always going to be stacked against Iran -- and the Third World -- by the United States.
Even Iranians conversant with the West are venting their fury at the United States, whose Congress and executive branch at times are seen as deliberately preventing the Third World from getting what it believes is its due.
Recently, a Revolutionary Council member interrupted an American journalist, who was trying to explain Carter's problems in an election year, by launching a long tirade against having to kowtow to the vagaries of the American political system.
"The whole world is supposed to wait for the election campaign, then the election itself, then the choosing of a new cabinet," he said. "But the whole world is fed up with waiting for that [single] week of tranquility."
Moreover, there is a common Iranian feeling that the Americans are an insensitive lot who never understand anyone else. Why else would Carter have allowed the shah to enter the country, they asked.
"Even if we put the hostages in a private plane with 10 stewardesses for each hostage and sent them back home, they would complain that one of the stewardesses was ugly," an Iranian said.
In that kind of atmosphere, diplomats and analysts believe the best that can be hoped for is that the United States will cool it -- if only because that seems the best way to erode the popular support the students at the embassy now enjoy. And it is those studens who are calling the tune today.