Responding to President Carter's call for allied support, the foreign ministers of the European Community today deferred a retaliation against Iran and opted instead for a French-inspired condemnation of Tehran that echoed their previous protests.
The only new element in the statement issued by the community members was an agreement to send instructions to their ambassadors in Tehran to convey individualy the protest to the Iranian government. There was no question of breaking relations or recalling ambassadors.
But Norway, which is not a community member, today recalled its ambassador from Tehran in response to Carter's plea for allied support. Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Frydenlund said the ambassador was instructed to "present a new protest to Iranian authorities and then leave for Oslo for consultations as soon as possible."
Following today's meeting of the nine ministers, one participant, who asked not to be named, said it would be wrong to interpret their joint statement as a "slap in the face for America," suggesting that the community's response to the Iran crisis could harden in the future.
Italy's Emilio Colombo, who chaired the foreign ministers' meeting, said diplomatic relations with Iran would be maintained, adding that the community would review the situation in about two weeks in the light of reports requested from their envoys in Tehran.
The decision to have the diplomats report back to their governments and to hold further talks was taken in an attempt to strengthen what would otherwise have been an almost routine protest note, a well-placed source at the meeting said.
The statement, which called for the immediate release of the American hostages and deplored the attitude of the Iranian government, had been presented to the meeting by the French Foreign Minister Jean Francois Poncet who led the lobby against economic and diplomat sanctions sought by the United States.
The sources said that West Germany, backed by Britain, had initially pressed for a tougher line but had soon agreed to a joint statement based on the French draft with the understanding that the situation would be reviewed.
British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington emphasized after the meeting that this had been a preliminary response in what was the first ministerial session of the community since the escalation of the crisis.
What was evident from the meeting was the common desire of the community members to act together and the belief that negotiations and diplomatic contacts were the best course to follow in Iran.Colombo said none of the nine members would act individually in the crisis until after their ambassadors in Tehran had reported back and a further meeting held. For the time being, the nine governments "reserved their judgment" on Carter's policy, the Italian minister said.
The call for a common front was extended to Japan which, Colombo said, had been invited to joint the European Community intiative. It was endorsed by Greece, about to become a member, which announced that it would follow the line laid down by the statement.
After the meeting, held at the Italian Embassy, the nine foreign ministers joined the European Council session which issued a second, though more lukewarm, statement on the Iranian crisis.
The Strasbourg-based council, which is a consultative body and was holding a routine scheduled meeting, was apparently barred from making stronger condemnations by the presence of members, such as Switzerland, whose neutral policy excludes joint sanction calls.
While West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrick Genscher was reported to have sought a tougher course here, the executive committee of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's Social Democratic Party issued a statement in Bonn today voicing reservations about economic sanctions against Iran.
The statement said that such punitive measures have not worked in the past and cited actions against Rhodesia, South Africa and Cuba. It also said that Bonn's agreements with Iran had to be honored, just as West Germany's accords with the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, observers in Bonn said that although the West Germans remain extremely cautious and slow in going along with Washington, they do not express the same strong reservations about eventually adopting sanctions against Iran as they did about Carter's punitive measures directed against the Soviet Union because of the invasion of Afghanistan.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Saburo Okita said today that it would be "very difficult" for Japan "at this time" to take any of the diplomatic steps against Iran that Carter had asked.