President Carter asked the nation's governors yesterday to develop strong energy conservation programs in response to the crisis in Iran, but received a cool and skeptical reaction to his call for "the sharpest possible reduction" in energy use.
The president made the appeal during a White House briefing for 39 governors and other top state officals on the likely impact of the administration decision to cut off oil imports from Iran in response to the Nov. 4 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where Iranian students continued to hold about 70 hostages, including 62 Americans.
Energy Secretary Charles Duncan told the governors that by the end of this month the administration will have developed proposed conservation targets for each state. He and other officials asked the governors to consider a number of specific steps, including a 5 percent reduction in overall energy use by state governments, a 10 percent cut in energy consumed by state vehicles and reimposition of odd-even and minimum-purchase gasoline plans.
The governors promised to cooperate in development of conservation targets for their states. But several were openly skeptical that there will be a serious oil shortage and critical of what they called the federal government's failure to stimulate new energy production in the United States. g
Following the meeting Gov. Otis R. Bowen of Indiana, chairman of the National Governor's Association, said "We are ready to implement whatever emergency measures are needed . . . provided only that we are convinced there will be a shortfall due to Iran."
Asked if Carter had convinced him of the need for immediate conservative action, Republican Bowen said, "No, he didn't convince me, and I don't think he convinced the other governors either."
While the push for energy conservation preoccupied the White House yesterday, there were no major diplomatic developments in the 13-day stalemate over the embassy takeover.
The president, emerging from a White House conference on library and information services, where he had made a speech, was asked if there were any encouraging developments in the situation in Iran.
"No." he replied grimly.
At the State Department, spokesman Hodding Carter reiterated the U.S. position that Iran's deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who is undergoing treatment for cancer in New York, is free to go anywhere he wants. uSpokesman Carter was responding to reports from Tehran radio that the students holding the embassy had threatened "harsher decisions" about their American hostages if the shah travels to another country.
In New York, meanwhile, the shah's doctors said in a medical bulletin that the exiled former leader may have to undergo an "exceedingly grave" operation to remove a gallstone within six to 10 weeks.
The shah had no comment on the continuing turmoil, saying through a spokesman, "My continued silence is my statement."
In other developments yesterday, many of them reflecting American anger at the embassy takeover:
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said he wouldn't blame Americans for "throwing rocks or eggs or anything else" at Iranian students demonstrating in the United States. "I'd feel like taking a punch at one myself if I could get to him," Byrd said in an interview with the Charleston Daily Mail.
A majority of the House of Representatives joined in sponsoring a resolution calling for an immediate end to U.S. military training for 260 Iranians, mostly pilots.
Immigration officials said they have interviewed about 4,000 Iranian students since the White House ordered their visas reviewed and found about 10 percent subject to deportation.
The president canceled a trip today to the Florida Democratic Convention as well as his plans to spend next week vacationing on Sapelo Island, Ga. Earlier, the president canceled trips to Canada and Pennsylvania because of the Iran situation.
World currency markets reeled from reports that Iran no longer will accepted dollars as payment for oil. The Treasury Department, meanwhile, issued guidelines for American banks in handling the Iran government assets in this country that the White House has orderd frozen. (Details, Page D3 ).
More than 1,000 black pastors meetingin Detroit passed resolution calling Carter to deport the shah "as quickly as possible" and end "harassment" of Iranians in this country. The pastors also called for release of the American hostages.
In his talk to the governors at the White House, the president sought to calm American anger directed at Iranian students in the United States.
"I hope that you will caution all Americans, as I am trying to do now, not to abuse the fine tens of thousands of Iranians who live in our country . . . and also to recognize that in Iran it is the radicals and the militants and the irresponsible elements there who are responsible for the tragedy which we are trying to prevent," he said.
Carter also told the governors that "there is no reason to panic" over the oil supply situation.
The governor's skepticism is based in part on the possibility that U.S. oil companies will be able to make up elsewhere the loss of 700,000 barrels a day from Iran. They are also aware that there are no current shortages of petroleum products in the United States, and that inventories are 3.5 percent higher than at this time last year.
In the midst of the energy discussion, presidential politics also came up. California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., a Democratic presidential contender, told reporters that Carter's energy battle "is being fought with a popgun." And Republican Governor William J. Janklow of South Dakota, according to one source, asked the president to pledge not to allow presidential primary elections to influence the drafting of state conservation targets.
"You have that pledge," Carter replied, adding that to allow politics to affect those decisions would mean "a net loss politically" for his campaign.