The United States hopes that its principal allies will impose economic sanctions against Iran within a few weeks, Deputy Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said yesterday.
"We're looking for action from them at this point, not words," Christopher said of the allies on the television program "Issues and Answers" (ABC, WJLA).
Christopher also confirmed that President Carter has asked allies in Western Europe and Japan to break diplomatic relations with Iran if a new round of economic sanctions and political pressure fails to win release of the 53 American hostages in Tehran.
Describing a "new phase" in the Iranian crisis that began last week when the United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran, Christopher said, "We've asked the allies to join us in taking severe economic sanctions against Iran."
He said the administration hopes the first allied moves against Iran come as early as April 21, when the foreign ministers of the European Common Market countries are scheduled to meet.
While awaiting the allies' response, the United States is also expected to impose new economic moves against Iran, possibly before the April 21 foreign ministers meeting, a senior White House official said yesterday. The official said these measures, which he did not specify, will be "difficult to implement."
The new moves the United States is considering, accompanied by whatever actions the allies take, are part of a two-staged process Carter set in motion aimed at winning the release of the hostages by political and economic pressures by the end of next month.
If those measures fail, the process would reach its second stage, which may include unilateral U.S. military action such as a naval blockade of Iran in the Persian Gulf.
The president has set his own deadline for the first phase of the process to work, asking the allies to break diplomatic relations with Iran by "a specific date" next month if the additional measures have not won the release of the hostages by then.
Referring to the dwindling number of nonmilitary options available to the administration, Christopher said:
"I think the fact is if we are not successful with these sanctions that are in place now, if the allies don't join us, if the subsequent nonmilitary actions we might take don't work, then we'll have to consider other options and they will be less attractive than the options which are open to us."
The president referred to his request that the allies break diplomatic relations with Iran by "a specific date" next month in an interview with British, French, West German and Italian television correspondents, the full text of which was made public yesterday.
"What we ask specifically of them (the allies) is that they carry out now two basic proposals." Carter said in the interview. "One is to honor the sanctions against Iran that were voted and supported by all of them in the United Nations Security Council earlier this year.
"And secondly," he continued, "if this should prove to be unsuccessful, then to join up in strong diplomatic moves against Iran, to show them that we all do stand together in the condemnation of terrorism, a threat to our country, to all of them . . ."
Accusing Iranian authorities of "constant misleading statements, constant delay, constant failure to carry out commitments," the president said that through additional economic measures and the support of the allies he hopes "to avoid the military action or other stronger belligerent action that would always be an open option for us."
"Our patience is running out and, if I have been criticized in my own country for any aspect of my behavior, it has been because we have been too patient, not too precipitous," Carter said.
In his appearance yesterday, Christoher discounted speculation that the United States might reduce its security commitment to its European allies if they refuse to impose additional measures against Iran.
"I don't think we're talking about the security relationship here," he said. "We're talking about what good allies and good friends do for each other when there is trouble."