A visit to the occupied U.S. Embassy yesterday by a delegation including two representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross has done much to allay fears here about the condition of the American hostages.
The hostages' health, according to reports here and in Geneva, Switzerland, is generally "good" and improvements apparently have been made in their living conditions in recent weeks.
Dr. Bernard Liebeskind, a Swiss physician who was one of two Red Cross representatives to visit the embassy, said after his return to Geneva today that the hostages "generally are in good condition and there are no problems of nutrition" although "one was a little bit anxious and two others appeared depressed." They have been held hostage since Nov. 4.
Liebeskind took with him to Geneva messages from all of the hostages he and Harald Schmid De Grueneck, the Red Cross representative in Tehran, saw. Today, Red Cross officials began relaying the messages to the hostages' relatives in the United States.
While the Red Cross, at the insistence of the militant captors, adamantly refused to make public the names or the number of hostages their representatives visited, diplomatic sources here and in Washington said they were confident that they saw 50 -- the number that the State Department has said are being held.
Liebeskind said in Geneva that he had spoken to each hostage but conducted no physical examinations of them "because none had any particular complaint."
He said he had made "some suggestions to the doctor in charge" about improving the conditions of their detention, but he said details of his suggestions were confidential.
Reuter quoted Mansour Shamsa, the executive chairman of the Red Lion and Sun Society, Iran's counterpart of the Red Cross, as saying in a telephone interview that seven or eight of the hostages "are kept in individual rooms apart from the others," apparently in solitary confinement.
Shamsa also said that the hostages were in good physical and mental health, except that several were suffering from a minor skin infection, for which the doctors prescribed an ointment.
Still, the conditions that the visitors found seems to indicate that improvements have been made since a member of the Ruling Revolutionary Council, Ezzatollah Sahabi, visited the hostages at the end of February.
A statement a week ago by Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, authorizing more outside visits to the hostages "with the supervision of the responsible officials" and describing the captives' conditions as "good" also was believed to have encouraged improvement.
In a television film broadcast here last week, embassy press attache Barry Rosen was shown telling an American clergyman during Easter services, "Only in the last month have we been able to talk to each other, and that has helped tremendously."
When they entered the embassy yesterday, the visitors found a few hostages playing Ping-Pong. During their eight hour stay, one visitor said, the hostages were served a dinner of cannelloni prepared by the embassy's Pakistani cook, who has been retained by the militants.
In the past, however, the militants have gone to some lengths to show good condition to visitors and it was not clear how much of yesterday's mood was especially laid on for the occasion.
According to sources close to the visitors, the hostages were all being held in one building and were sleeping on mattresses on the floor in what appeared to be offices, furnished with desks.
In one room, a visitor said, two young hostages had painted the walls and had pinned up pictures of their girlfriends.
"It was very tidy," the visitor said.
Although captors monitored all the visits, contrary to a normal Red Cross regulation that they be private, Red Cross officials said they insisted that all the hostages be seen in their place of detention, that their names and addresses be taken and that their families be informed individually about their health and condition.
It was learned, however, that the messages the hostages wrote to their families on standard Red Cross forms were censored by the militants before the Red Cross officials were allowed to take them out of the embassy.
In another development, Khomeini replied to a message from Pope John Paul II beseeching Khomeini to solve the U.S.-Iranian crisis.
Khomeini thanked the pope for his "good intentions" in expressing concern about the deterioration of relations between the two countries, but he said that "our noble crusader nation has considered this severance of relations a good omen and had a great celebration."
Khomeini wrote: I ask you to use your spiritual influence among Christian nations to warn the American government of the consequences of plunder, injustice and coercion and advise Mr. Carter, who faces the final defeat, to treat nations who want absolute independence . . . on the basis of humane standards."