Archbishop Hilarion Capucci today visited the scene of the aborted U.S. hostage rescue mission and said that he hopes to deliver the charred remains of eight American servicemen to officials in a third country for return to the United States.
Returning to Tehran after the visit, the Greek Catholic archbishop witnessed another display of the Americans' remains as an aide to President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr placed two pieces of a badly burned human corpse on a table in front of reporters at the Tehran airport VIP lounge.
Early today, upon his arrival in Iran and before his desert trip, Capucci said, "We plan to take the bodies to another country and hand them over to [the] International Red Cross to be delivered to their families."
In solidarity with the Iranian government's decision not to deal with Washington on the repatriation, Capucci added, "We will not give them to the U.S. government."
Diplomatic sources said they believed the Americans' remains, which were displayed for propaganda purposes at the occupied U.S. Embassy two days ago, would be sent to Switzerland in four or five days.
In the second incident today, President Bani-Sadr's cultural and press adviser, Ali Mousavi Garmarudi, displayed fragments of a corpse that Iranian search teams had missed. "This is the crime of the Americans," he said.
After Capucci's statement had struck a theme of brotherhood and spirituality, Garmarudi shocked reporters present by opening up a small cardboard box and taking out what appeared to be a carbonized human foot and another unidentifiable piece of a body. He put them on a coffee table as Capucci sat passively on a softa beside him. Asked by a reporter why he was displaying the remains, the presidential spokesman responded in rudimentary English, "To show the crimes of the Americans, because these are human."
Capucci had just finished saying that his visit was a "humanitarian and religious gesture" and that he hoped to be able to take custody of the Americans' remains in the next couple of days.
The radical former Greek Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem, who has strongly supported the Iranian revolution, sharply criticized the U.S. hostage rescue attempt that resulted in the deaths of eight servicemen in a fiery helicopter accident as the mission was being aborted.
"I certainly can't approve of what happened," Capucci said. He noted that Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had resigned in protest after arguing that the rescue mission had been ill-advised.
At the scene of the accident in the desert about 100 miles southwest of the town of Tabas, Army commanders who accompanied Capucci insisted that more than eight Americans had died, according to Iranian television. An Iranian narrator quoted one of the commanders as telling Capucci, "We found two more legs when we looked under the wreckage, and almost certainly there have been more killed."
Iranian authorities have said they recovered the remains of at least nine men at the site, but only four of the victims' bodies displayed at the embassy were intact. The others were so badly burned that only charred pieces of their bodies remained.
In another development, the Iranian military reported that two Iranian planes flying over the Gulf of Oman were attacked around mid-day by two American F14s based on a U.S. aircraft carrier in Iranian waters. The Iranian statement said that two Air Force Phantom jet fighters based at Bandar Abbas chased the U.S. planes away.
The American version was that two U.S. patrol planes encountered an Iranian C130 transport plane over the Gulf, took a look at it and left.
United Press International reported the following from London:
Iranian Defense Minister Mustafa Chamran said today that the American hostages "should be released at the appropriate time because they are not our target."
In an interview on Tehran radio monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp., Chamran described the militants' takeover of the U.S. Embassy as "a cry of pain that issued from our nation against the west after 50 years of oppression and torture."
"I believe that those detained at the spy den [U.S. Embassy] and elsewhere should be released at the appropriate time because they are not our target," Chamran said. "Our target is U.S. colonialist policy. The hostages are being detained to put U.S. foreign policy in the dock -- not individuals who are of no consequence."