Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said today he sees no reason for the United States to admit its complicity in the alleged crimes of the shah of Iran, and the White House immediately accused him of having a change of heart.
It was another chapter in the long-distance debate between Kennedy and President Carter over Iran, Afghanistan and the president's refusal to campaign for reelection until the hostages are released from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
The Iranians have been pressing the United States to admit guilt in connection with the shah's regime. Today in Keene, N.H., Kennedy said he was "not prepared to make any admission of guilt because I think there has to be an investigation."
But Kennedy said the investigation by the United Nations commission should proceed freely.
"I think the mandate of that commission ought to be to review the grievances of the Iranian people and I think those grievances ought to lead wherever they might lead."
While House press secretary Jody Powell wasted little time jumping on Kennedy for today's remark.
"Sen. Kennedy has now adopted a totally different view toward the shah and U.S. policy from the one he has maintained over the last several months," Powell said. "In San Francisco, he said the shah's regime was one of the most violent in the history of mankind. He now says the United States should not concede any wrong-doing.
"I think he continues to come around to whatever position he considers most politically expedient at the time. He owes the public an explanation of where he really stands and what he really believes."
"I never respond to Jody Powell," Kenedy said as he left the Union Oyster House, the oldest restaurant in Boston, where he had been for a reception. "[Press aide] Tom Southwick responds to Jody Powell."
Southwick responded: "That's a rather incredible statement coming from a president who spoke out against decontrol of the price of oil in 1976, who promised to balance the budget at the end of his first term, who promised to reduce the rate of inflation and who said he would never embargo grain. And he said, 'You can depend on it.'"