The wife of an American hostage yesterday called for a congressional investigation of past American actions in Iran in an effort to end the 4-month-old U.S.-Iranian crisis.

"It seems to me that it takes a strong nation -- a strong person -- to be able to say that I'm sorry. I hope that America hasn't fallen so low that it can't do that," Bonnie Graves, wife of public affairs officer John E. Graves, said in an interview with WRC-TV.

She urged Congress to begin a joint session immediately "to treat with the actions of our government in the past in Tehran." She called on Americans to write Congress to press for such an investigation.

"The [investigation] should be done immediately," she said, seated beside two of her children at their home in Reston. "We cannot wait."

Graves, who was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran last August, is among an estimated 50 Americans held hostage since the embassy takeover Nov. 4. Three other U.S. officials have been confined at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Graves, 52, an International Communication Agency official, has had an 18-year foreign service career that took him to other international trouble spots, including Vietnam and the Congo, now Zaire. He also held posts in Madagascar, Togo and Cameroon.

Although relatives of other hostages have previously criticized the U.S. failure to gain the captives' release, Bonnie Graves' complaints were among the sharpest since the U.N. investigative commission arrived in Tehran last month.

In the television interview, Graves noted that she had avoided making public statements until now. But, she added, "After four months, I've decided that we have no choice but to do something ourselves." Her children also expressed objections to U.S. policy in Iran.

A son, Alan, said that his father had gone to Tehran in hopes of reconstructing U.S.-Iranian relations after the Iranian revolution. But he said his father had been "betrayed in his mission," apparently by the American decision to allow the former shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to enter the United States for medical treatment.

A daughter, Luzette, said, "There's basically no good reason for giving priority to a deposed foreign dictator over the well-being of the very lives of more than 50 official American representatives in Iran."

Luzette Graves said a congressional investigation would demonstrate to the Iranian public that Americans realize that "violations had taken place in the past" and that "we feel very strongly that . . . any violations, whether they are American or not, should be condemned, redressed and permanently banned."

Although Bonnie Graves had avoided public comment, she said her family has long felt dubious about U.S. efforts to obtain the hostages' release. "I'm very skeptical," her son, Alan, said in an interview in early January. "We aren't hearing what's really going on over there."