Abundant signs stamp fiasco on the special United Nations commission now visiting Iran. Even if the hostages are eventually released, the price promises to be a black eye for the United States.
So the administration ought to be taking active measures to control the damage. It should at the very least prepare and publish an official white paper, setting out in full detail the role played by this country in Iran over the past 35 years.
The U.N. commission on Iran rests on a series of political judgments made by Secretary General Kurt Waldheim and accepted by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and President Carter. The premises are as follows:
Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, Iran's new president, wants to settle the hostage affair quickly in order to get on with the business of governing. To make a settlement, however, Bani-Sadr needs the support of Ayatollah Khomeini. To get the ayatollah's support, Bani-Sadr has to fob off the militants holding the hostages and their allies in the ayatollah's entourage -- notably Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh.
To that end, the commission was loaded with members sympathetic to the Iranian revolution and prone to think of the United States as a dirty imperialist power. It was empowered to hear -- and to validate by implication at least -- Iranian complaints against the deposed shah and the steps taken by the United States in his support.
In return, the commission was supposed to visit the hostages as the first step toward their transfer out of the embassy and the physical custody of the militants. Once the first transfer had been effected, the eventual release would follow quickly.
Numerous developments -- especially the ayatollah's statement that the final disposition of the hostages would be left to a parliament named in elections this month and next -- have cast doubts on that approach. The Carter administration is in poor position to dig in its heels at this juncture. It has staked everything on release of the hostages, and can do nothing that would shatter that hope. The more so as an acknowledgment of failure would be an admission, in the midst of the primary campaign, that the president had been duped once again.
Unfortunately, the weakness of the administration is fully apparent to all parties. The Iranians are playing Washington -- day after day and week after week -- for a yo-yo. The U.N. commission is going along with the charade. It is a mark of its lack of seriousness that the co-chairman, Andres Aguilar of Venezuela, flew back to Caracas last Friday for the purpose of being inducted into an honorific academy. So even if the hostages are eventually released, the United States will have shown itself in the process to be a total patsy, ready to put up with any indignity.
It is in these circumstances, as a minimal barrier against public abuse of this country, that the white paper suggests itself. The document would now show that the United States acted in a perfect way. It would indicate that the regime of the shah was highly corrupt. It would show that the shah's regime was brutal -- though far less than generally imagined, and sometimes in retaliation for the murder of American citizens by terrorist groups. But it would also show that, in several major matters, the United States treated Iran in ways wholly consistent with its constructive postwar record.
First, there was the Soviet invasion of Azerbaijan and the establishment of a puppet government at the end of World War II. Harry Truman took a strong stand against that piece of Soviet aggression. Working through the United Nations, he forced the Russians to stand down and yield up the territory they had occupied.
Then there was the Point IV program for technical assistance initiated by Truman in 1950 and maintained by subsequent administrations with Iran as a principal beneficiary. The United States not only poured in millions to support programs for literacy and rural development, but it trained the basic cadre of Iranian civil servants.
Then there was the intervention, in 1953, which restored the shah after he had been forced to flee the country by the regime of Mohammed Mossadegh. It is true that American and British intelligence worked hand in hand to coordinate Iranian resistance to Mossadegh. But otherwise, the CIA's role has been enormously exaggerated. The basic resistance to Mossadegh came from Iranians, and the shah was welcomed back to Tehran with an outburst of spontaneous enthusiasm. He went on -- whatever the corruption -- to play a major role in moving to modernize his country and maintain a semblance of security in the region of the Persian Gulf and the tier of countries ranging from Turkey and Iraq through Iran to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The record, in short, is not one that justifies the wholesale condemnation now being prepared in Tehran and at the United Nations. The president and the secretary of state -- who are themselves due for harsh judgment by history in this matter -- would strengthen their hand if they at least worked to make public a full and fair account of what actually happened between the United States and Iran over the whole postwar period.