The Iranian government was reported today to have stopped all discussions about the transfer of American hostages to its control under pressure from the powerful, clergy-dominated Islamic Revolutionary Party.
The party insists that the United States make an unambiguous and public pledge to abandon threatened sanctions and criticism.
Well-informed sources said that the clerical party, which is expected to win a majority of seats in the new Iranian parliament, forced the demand on the government by refusing all substantative discussions on the transfer issue.
In a statement published in the Islamic Republic newspaper Saturday, the party said: "Our clear and decisive stand on this issue is that the hostages should remain in the hands of the students following the Imam's (Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's) path."
[The party reiterated that the hostage issue was linked to the problem of the deposed shah. He said President Carter was trying to secure a hostage transfer to win the presidential election and to enable him to launch "massive propaganda against the Islamic Republic in the world."]
Observers here suggested that the United States was unlikely to meet the demand on sanctions and criticism. That, in turn, would rule out any meaningful effort to bring about the hostages' release before the new parliament convenes in late May or early June.
After expectations generated by official statements earlier this week, the American hostages Friday began their sixth month of detention with their eventual release still as much in doubt as when they were first seized at the U.S. Embassy by Moslem militants.
President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr was expected to see Khomeini Saturday.
With Khomeini not known to favor the transfer, some sources said the matter would be decided Saturday afternoon "for better or for worse." Khomeini's specific backing is necessary for any transfer to take place.
Meanwhile, Christian clergymen started to arrive to visit the American hostages for Easter services while a senior right-wing Islamic spokesman attacked the threatened U.S. sanctions and held out the prospect of Moslem revolutions in the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf.
First of the Christian clerics to arrive for Easter services was Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, a hero in Third World radical eyes for his imprisonment by Israel for running guns for the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Capucci was here in January and visited the hostages, as American clergymen had at Christmas.
Three American clergyment were reported on their way from the United States, and Iranian Christian clerics were also to take part in the Easter services.
The right-wing clerical party dismissed threatened new American sanctions in a Friday prayer service delivered by one of its leaders, Hojatoleslam Mohammed Ali Khamenei, at Tehran University.
If the United States tries such punitive action, he warned, Iran's Shiitte Islamic revolution could spread turmoil to the vulnerable Arab gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iraq, all of which have sizable Shiite populations.
Echoing threats made last November by Khomeini, he said, "Some day all the oil taps can be turned off on the sophisticated technology of America and Europe."
"Do they think that if the Iranian nation starves, its brothers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and other oil-rich regions will remain quiet? With the cries of its oppression that Iranian nation can deprive them of Persian Gulf oil," he said.
Khamenei also said that the new parliament should "sit down and decide what to do about the hostages," the now standard formula first voiced by Khomeini was a way to solve the issue.
"If the hostages are not put on trial by the parliament," he said, "that should be regarded as the mercy of the Iranian nation."
Meanwhile, turbulent Kurdistan appeared to be on the verge of major violence after almost six months of uneasy cease-fire between Kurds demanding autonomy and the central government, which has lost effective control of the large area bordering on Iraq.
The Kurdish Democratic Party tonight issued a warning that "another major Army offensive" was to be expected "in the next 48 hours." Its leader Abdolrahman Qassemlou announced that he and his principal lieutenants were leaving the city of Mahabad in the morning and heading for secret hideouts in the mountainous region.
Earlier, this week, Bani-Sadr issued a stern warning to the Kurdish nationalists to turn in their arms on pain of Army repression. He also presided over at least two sessions of the National Security Council believed devoted almost entirely to the Kurdistan problem.
Observers here have suggested that Bani-Sadr may be backing the showdown with the Kurds to distract attention from the hostage issue, which has proved a serious blow to his prestige in light of his inability to secure the Americans' transfer, much less release.