Iran's foreign minsiter tonight held out the possibility that some of the American hostages held here could be home for Christmas, and indicated that Iranian demands in exchange for the release of all 50 hostages might be met without any of them being put on trial.
Speaking on ABC television's "Issues and Answers" and later to other reporters, Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotzadeh said Iran's own "grand jury" investigation of alleged U.S. spying and the shah's crimes would go forward, but declared no hostage would appear "as a victim or an accused."
At the same time, Ghotbzadeh said the release of some of the hostages before Christmas is "probable, but not certain."
Later, he changed the word "probable" to "possible." [In Washington, President Carter said, "We're not displeased with the interview." But he added, "I think action would be more indicative than words."]
The uncertainty of Ghotbzadeh's position appears to reflect both his recognition of previous contradictions of official statements made by students holding the hostages and a possible weakening of Iran's stand following the deposed shah's departure from the United States to Panama yesteray.
As recently as this morning, the students at the U.S. Embassy reaffirmed their earlier threat to put all the hostages on trial now that the shah has left the United States.
Ghotbzadheh, however, said that thrat was not important. "At this time, no trial will go on," he said.
Noting that "it is not the body of the shah that is important," Ghotbzadeh appeared to confirm a perceived gradual shift in the Iranian position during the past two weeks from demands for the shah's return to U.S. acknowledgment of its and the shah's alleged crimes, and a return of his fortune to Iran.
Ghotbzadeh claimed the shah's departure was a great victory for Iran and a retreat for the United States. "Now that he [the shah,] has been kicked out of the Untied States," he said on "Issues and Answers," there are some other matters that should be cleared up before the question of the hostages is resolved. The primary issue, he said, is "the American commitment to give us back the wealth of the shah, which has been stolen from our country."
While Ghotbzadeh held out the hope that some hostages might be freed before Christmas, he made it clear that most of them would be spending the holiday in the embassy compound here.
Moreover, he said no independent visitors would check on the hostages' condition until Christmas, and the visitors would likely be Christian clergymen who would hold religious services.
The United States has urged Iran to allow regular visits to all 50 of the hostages by a physician and qualified observers from recognized internatinal organizations.
For most of the hostages, Ghotbzadeh indicated, release would not come until an international commission -- which he called a grand jury -- met to study the alleged crimes of the shah and the American involvement in keeping him in power.
Ghotbzadeh said Iranian authorities have selected the members of the international commission, but have not officially invited them yet. He would not name them, but said they include at least one American, some Europens, Asians and Africans and a few Iranians. He said the grand jury would start hearings on Jan. 1 or 2.
Ghotbzadeh sounded extremely hopeful for an early end to the crisis, which has occupied center stage since the U.S. Embassy was taken by militant students Nov. 4, and has rocked the world's monetary system and the international oil market. But his word is not final in this country, where government officials take a back seat to religious leaders and militant students.
In order to act on today's pronouncements, Ghotbzadeh needs the approval of this country's religious and political leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who has thus far remained silent on the shah's move although he has continued his attacks on the United States and President Carter.
Ghotbzadeh said he is going to the holy city of Qom to see Khomeini Monday.
He indicated tonight that there has been some hard behind-the-scenes bargining to find a way to get the hostages freed other than returning the shah.
"I can assure you," Ghotbzadeh said, "I will try my best. . . We consider this problem extremely important to us."
As part of the bagaining, diplomats here reported today, two Western European embassies in Tehran told the Iranian government at least 24 hours in advance, at the request of the United States, that the shah was going to Panama.
Meanwhile, in is first official reaction to the shah's departure from the United States, the ruling Revolutionary Council labeled it a "retreat" for the Carter administration and it called on Panama to return the shah it Iran or trial.
"Wherever the deposed shah flees," the statement said, "he will be followed by the Iranian nation."
The Revolutionary Council also rejected as one-sided the ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague tht ordered Iran to free the hostages and return the embassy to U.S. control.
Ghotbzadeh's statements on the "grand jury" proceedings, and his attempts to make it clear that the U.S. hostages would not be on trial, was a rollback from his previous position.
Ten days ago, when he first announced the "grand jury" concept, Ghotbzadeh said that some of the Americans held in the embassy later would be forced to stand trial for espionage since documents found by the students indicated they were spies and not diplomats.
He promised " a Christmas as enjoyable as we can make it under the present circumstances" for hostages who are not released.
"There will definitely be for the hostages a good Christmas, and I have decided actually on the order of Imam Khomeini to invite the priests, Protestant and Catholic, to come and give the service and do the religious ceremonies."
"We have Christmas trees for them. You can be sure gifts from their families will be received by them and they will have Christmas with their Iranian friends."
Ghotbzadeh said, "You'll see them all" at Christmas, indicating that the authorities possibly were thinking of allowing television cameras into the embassy. He said some of the hostages are being held in the ambassador's residence, which he called "the palace of the American Ambassador."
He added, "they are having a good time."
Ghotbzadeh apologized to the families of the hostages, saying, "I share their anguish. I am really terribly sory for what has happened."
At the same time he complained about the treatment of Iranian nationals in the United States, especially the thousands of Iranian students.
"You have created so much hatred among the Amerian people," he said, "that our nationals over there, our sutdents, are being harasses every day."
In other developments today, about 1,500 persons paraded through the center of Tehran to protest news coverage of this country by the "international Zionist an imperialist" press. The march, organized by the Islamic Republican Party, demanded that reporters who failed to tell the truth be thrown out of the country.
Students from Tehran Engineering College, acting with official permission, took over the Iran-America Society building to use for classrooms. The director of the academic and cultural institution, Katherine Koob, is one of the hostages being held at the embassy here.