IRAN'S PRESIDENT-ELECT, Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, in his television appearance yesterday, managed to dash the rosier expectations that he represented a new less-fanatic center of authority in Tehran with which the United States might be easily able to negotiate a speedy release of the hostages. True, in manner he was much less abrasive and infuriating than the other Iranian principals, but considering Mr. Ghotbzadeh and the ayatollah, almost anybody would be. He evinced some sympathy for the hostages' health. Nor is there reason to doubt him when he says that, if he had controlled the matter from the start, the hostages affair would not have arisen. It is easy to believe that if he were in charge of the negotiation, he would present Iran's demands in a way notably less rigid than, say, Ayatollah Khomeini or the terrorists at the embassy.
But Mr. Bani-Sadr is not in charge in the sense of being on his own in this. And -- a point that shouldn't be missed -- he himself, for all his ease of manner and tone of sweet reasonableness, nonetheless does acquiesce in the ugly act of terrorism that is at the heart of the crisis: the unlawful and intolerable seizure of a country's diplomatic mission by the armed nationals of the host country. And like all the other Iranian authorities, Mr. Bani-Sadr -- admittedly perhaps because he has no choice -- now insists that the captives can only be negotiated out. Thus, even while easing back from a direct insistence that the administration deposit the ex-shah back in Iran, he continues to demand that the United States mortify itself by confessing past wrongdoing and by making specific acts of atonement for the shah. He wants to see in the United States a reaction mirroring the emotional transformation the revolution has produced in Iran.
This will not occur. Nations, great small, simply do not participate willingly in their own humiliation -- least of all under this sort of duress. Policy can be changed, but history cannot be repudiated or rewritten or disavowed. The point is that to fear the kind of interventionism Mr. Bani-Sadr professes to find most hateful, some sort of insistence on recreating if not in fact actually restoring the central American role and even the fallen shah in Iran, is simply a preposterous anxiety.
Mr. Bani-Sadr says he finds continuing traces of precisely such interventionism. But he is utterly wrong to see the steps Mr. Carter has taken strictly out of concern for the hostages as anything of the sort. Cannot he and other intelligent Iranians understand that they are asking the administration to acknowledge a change that the whole course of American policy since the ayatollah settled in has demonstrated? Do they not see that when Mr. Carter says he accepts the Iranian revolution he is confirming the essential new fact of the American attitude toward Iran?
Americans have accepted the revolution. What they do not accept is the captivity of the hostages. Mr. Bani-Sadr knows as well as Jimmy Carter, Kurt Waldheim and various others that there are all kinds of diplomatic formulas available to end the hostages crisis. The United States has long since decided to leave open a way for the Iranians to get out of this mess. It is simply a question of Iranian will -- of the will of Mr. Bani-Sadr, the ayatollah, the captors. American attitude toward the hostages is not, as Mr. Bani-Sadr suggests, merely a function of American press coverage. It is function of genuine national concern. A deal can be struck the instant Iran indicates it wishes to bring one errant act, the kidnapping, to an end.