Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, Iran's second ranking religious leader and the country's most influential moderate, says he does not consider the extradition of the shah an "essential matter" and believes there is room for compromise in the current U.S.-Iranian dispute.
In an interview in the Iranian holy city of Qom with the Madrid daily El Pais, Shariatmadari obliquely criticized the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Shariatmadari's remarks underscored a split that has developed between the moderate Iranian clergymen he represents and the more hardline, fanatical faction led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The mederates have been cast aside in Iran's Islamic revolutionary fervor and carry little weight in the ruling clerical circles.
"If I had been in Khomeini's place, the occupation of the American Embassy would never have occurred," Shariatmadari said. "There are people who have butted into our affairs and have interfered with these matters. These are the same people who have egged on the people to consider the extradition of the shah as something essential. This would seem to be the greatest aspiration of the Iranian people, but I do not think it is such an essential matter."
Shariatmadari added: The occupation of the embassy was carried out in the name of the revolution and not in the name of Islam. These things happen in all revolutions. A bargain can be struck if the Americans act reasonably. The United States knows well what it must do, but do not ask me what it should do.
"The revolution should have been conducted according to the laws of Islam. Shariatmadari said. "Every revolution has good things and bad things. The very word revolution signifies instability. I have already made clear that I was an adviser at the start but I have not been involved in the practical side. My silence is due to the fact that I think this is a very delicate moment for Iran . . . There are difficulties now and there will be difficulties in the future.
"At the moment the economic difficulties are very serious . . . If I say what I think there may be a split. I have my opinion about what is going on, but I will not give it. I repeat: it would cause problems. A number of us ayatollahs are in the same position."
Questioned about the current crisis, the ayatollah said, "War will not break out. Every war has its own particular motives. I do not believe the United States will attack. After the triumph of the revolution, all the Iranians want is to live in liberty. Why should the United States want to take away our freedom? What does America want: to attack Iran or to liberate its hostages?"
He told El Pais: "I took part in the revolution, but I am not responsible for what has happened. I am very worried, but I believe that with the help of God there will be peace."
Asked about the revolutionary tribunals and summary executions, the ayatollah was quoted as replying, "May it be God's will that those tribunals function no more."