President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr late Tuesday night punctured hopes of a rapid transfer of the estimated 50 American hostages to Iranian government control by warning President Carter that the United States "has not met our demands."
In an uncharacteristically direct statement, the Iranian president brushed aside Carter's statement welcoming Bani-Sadr's midday speech as a "positive step."
In that speech Bani-Sadr said that the Revolutionary Council had agreed to "accept supervision of the hostages" after "the American authorities make an official announcement that they will not make any propaganda, claims, speeches or provocations about the hostages until the formation of the parliament and the decision made by the parliament."
Tuesday night, however, Bani-Sadr called for a "separate and formal declaration" on his earlier demand linking the hostage transfer to cessation of propaganda until Iran's new parliament discusses the hostages' fate.
In effect, the Iranian president was demanding that the United States make an "official statement" promising to refrain from criticism or imposing economic and political sanctions for at least the next two months, by conservative estimates. It will take that long to complete the parliamentary election and for the new legislature to get down to business.
Analysts noted that Carter's "positive step" remark in fact described his view of Iran's willingness to transfer the hostages -- without any mention of Iran's stringent position.
At face value, both the initial Bani-Sadr formulation and the American reply were stretching the outer limits of optimism. Neither provided any solid indication of when, how, where or by whom the hostages would be transferred.
Moreover, the United States, it was learned, specifically had refused to meet Bani-Sadr's demands. A note sent Tuesday afternoon to the swiss Embassy and expected to be delivered to Iranian authorities Wednesday morning was reported to have said that:
The United States noted the Iranian government's position that the hostage question should be resolved by the new parliament.
Insisted that the administration would continue to demand the hostages' release as soon as possible.
Warned that the proposed U.S. sanctions might yet be imposed unless the Iranian government transferred the hostages.
It was not immediately clear why the message was not delivered Tuesday night. But some observers speculated that still another 11th-hour effort was under way to find a compromise between the seemingly irreconcilable American and Iranian demands.
The militant students holding the U.S. Embassy hostages declined substantive comment on Tuesday's developments.
They reiterated their standard line that they would follow revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's orders and had no plans for a transfer of the hostages.
However, Bani-Sadr dropped from his speech any mention of their proposal to remain inside the embassy along with the hostages when and if the Revolutionary Council eventually took over responsibility for the 27-acre compound.
Such a demand had figured in an Iranian message to the Carter administration Monday, but was rejected by Washington, according to informed sources.
If nothing else, Bani-Sadr's unequivocal statement late Tuesday night erased suggestions of differences between Khomeini's uncompromising anti-Carter tone in his national day speech Tuesday morning and the Iranian president's apparent effort to resolve the hostage situation with the least tension.
In the statement read by his son, Ahmad, the 79-year-old religious leader attacked the United States as the "great Satan" bent on a "political plot" involving "diabolical surgery in an attempt to deceive us through flattery."
Only the parliament could settle the hostages' fate, he reiterated.
President Carter "must know that supporting the deposed shah, after all those crimes and treachery and plunder have not left any opportunity open for a so-called honorable solution," he said. That all but ruled out the kind of compromise Bani-Sadr initially appeared to be trying to arrange.
Optimists noted the fact that Khomeini made no specific mention of the hostage transfer issue.
But, if nothing else, the events since the embassy was seized last Nov. 4 have made crystal clear that Khomeini's sense of political timing can never be overlooked.
Symptomatic of the public mood of Azadi, or Freedom Square, where Bani-Sadr spoke, was the constant heckling during his two-hour-long speech at midday, delivered on the first anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic.
At one point a heckler shouted that Bani-Sadr had no right to discuss the hostage transfer because Khomeini's statement had made no mention of it.
Sources said privately that Bani-Sadr's suggested arrangement for the hostages had called for Iranian Revolutionary Guards to enter the embassy and share custody of the hostages, presumably until the Iranian parliament convenes and resolves their fate.
Reinforcing the impression of pessimism in Tehran was Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh's departure from Tehran late Tuesday for an undisclosed destination, where friends said he was resting.
The absence from Tehran of the transfer plan's most consistently, outspoken advocate at this crucial moment inevitably was interpreted here as a blow to a successful, rapid resolution.
After the latest crisis over the hostage transfer, the impression emerges that the U.S.-Iranian diplomatic exchanges are being kept alive by mutual dependence between the Carter administration and Bani-Sadr.
Both are under attack from their domestic critics -- Carter from his Democratic and Republican rivals, Bani-Sadr from the Clerical rightists who back the students and apparently have Khomeini's ear as well.
Bani-Sadr implicitly acknowledged as much in his midday speech by quoting from a Carter message to him apparently dated Sunday.
Iranian officials have been citing purported messages from Carter over the past few days, claims that have been denied by U.S. authorities in terms suggesting the existence of communications but not the content quoted by Iran.
"According to our analysis of Iranian and American political conditions, the transfer of the hostages will be much more difficult later on," Bani-Sadr quoted Carter's reported letter as saying.
"We have taken the changing reaction of American public opinion and leading politicians about the Iranian turmoil under consideration," he said the letter continued, "and it is to be expected if a positive action does not take place that adverse pressure will in the coming weeks grow."
Both Bani-Sadr and Khomeini argued that the shah's departure from Panama for Egypt on March 23 relieved Iran of its promise to transfer the hostages. f
When pressed on the transfer question by the crowd, Bani-Sadr told thousands in the midday audience: "I said what promises? They said transferring the hostages and having them under medical care to have the American public feel they are secure."
Bani-Sadr later softened his criticism by blaming former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger for arranging the shah's departure and thereby depriving Iran of its change to present its case for extraditing the deposed monarch from Panama.