The U.N. Security Council agreed late tonight to meet Tuesday for discussions of the Iranian crisis but council members remained divided on a U.S. call for quick adoption of a resolution asking for release of American hostages in Tehran.
After an almost around-the-clock series of closed-door consultants, the 15-member council was still divided between supporters of the American call for quick action and those seeking delays until next week, when Iran's Acting Foreign Minister Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr is expected here to state the Iranian side in the dispute.
As a result, council members were left in the position of trying to work out a compromise Tuesday before the meeting scheduled for 3 p.m.
It remained unclear even whether the United States would be allowed to state its case at that meeting or be forced to wait until Iran is represented by Bani-Sadr.
U.S. Ambassador Donald McHenry, asked whether he thought his government was being rebuffed in its attempt to win urgent adoption of a resolution on the hostages, said only: "We have not yet reached agreement on a scenario."
U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim was even more guarded, calling the still unsolved negotiations "matters of a very delicate and complex nature."
Failure to obtain a speedy meeting to deal with what the United States calls "a deteriorating situation" or at least to allow a U.S. statement to be made before the Council would be seen as a stunning diplomatic defeat for the United States in its efforts to keep Iran isolated and on the defensive in the international community.
The deadlock arose as the result of a call issued Sunday by Waldheim for the Council to consider the Iranian situation urgently, as a potential danger to world peace. The United States, which previously had opposed an earlier Iranian call for a council debate, changed directions and endorsed Waldheim's appeal for an immediate meeting.
Both Waldheim and the Carter administration apparently were influenced by an announcement in Tehran Sunday that Bani-Sadr was coming to the United Nations. However, several hours later Iran's ruling Islamic Revolutionary Council apparently reversed Bani-Sadr's decision, and it was announced there that he would not come to New York until this weekend at the earliest.
Today's informal consultations began with the United States insisting that the meeting should be scheduled immediately, with or without Ban-Sadr's presence.
The United States hope was to obtain unanimous approval by the 15-nation council for a resolution calling on Iran to release at once the 49 hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
U.S. officials said privately they did not believe that adoption of such a resolution by itself would move Ayatoallah Khomeini, to free the hostages but might add to Iran's isolation and help pave the way for an eventual agreement on releasing the hostages.
But, in the consultations that began this morning, two Iranian special envoys -- Ahmad Salamatian and Said Sanjabi -- are understood to have argued that a meeting at this time would do more harm than good for the hostages. Reliable sources said the Iranian noted that their country currently is celebrating the Moslem religious holiday of Moharram, a period when feelings of the crowds in the streets reach an intensity that frequently erupts into violence.
The Iranians reportedly argued that any rhetorical discussion in the United Nations this week could inflame sentiment within Iran and heighten the hostages' danger. They also argued that Bani-Sadr would have less negotiating flexibility if the Security Council debate were to take place before his arrival.
According to reliable sources, this argument carried weight with several Third World members of the Council, including Kuwait, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Gabon and Zambia. While saying they were not opposed to the Council discussing the Iranian situation, these countries are said to have argued for waiting until Bani-Sadr could present Iran's case.
McHenry is understood to have proposed a compromise involving immediate opening of an Iran debate in the Security Council with the United States getting the opportunity to make a statement. Then, providing Iran gave a firm commitment on when Beni-Sadr would appear, the United States would have been willing to postpone conclusion of the meeting until that time.
However, as of tonight, the Third World bloc in the Council was refusing to agree to this U.S. proposal. These countries insisted instead that, if the Council opens debate on Iran now, the only one to speak should be Waldheim.
In the behind-the-scenes wrangling, the United States is understood to have the support of such European members as Norway, Britain and Portugal. France is understood to have argued that the wiser course would be to wait for Bani-Sadr, and the two Communist superpowers, the Soviet Union and China, reportedly have stayed in the background, neither opposing nor actively supporting the U.S. position.