Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh said today that Iran would take action on its own if Britain proved unable to cope with the seizure of the Iranian Embassy in London.
Ghotbzadeh told a news conference that Iranians in London who have been demonstrating against the embassy captors were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country and that ordering them to storm the embassy could be "one of the ways" to end the occupation.
The foreign minister would not describe any other ways that Iran might take action in the event of a deadlock. Asked if Iran would attempt a rescue operation, Ghotbzadeh said, "Like the Americans? No."
The Iranian Arab gunmen at the London embassy released a woman and an unidentified Iranian man they had held hostage, Washington Post correspondent Leonard Downie reported. The woman's release followed an emotional plea for her freedom on British television by her husband, who said she was pregnant.
The gunmen also renewed their threat to kill the remaining hostages, believed to number 20, unless ambassadors of Algeria, Jordan and Iraq and a representative of the International Red Cross agree to mediate their demands.
[Earlier in the day, the Associated Press quoted British police spokesman as saying that the gunmen had added to their original list of demands, which include release of 91 colleagues from Khuzestan Province in Iran who are imprisoned there and safe passage out of Britain for themselves and their hostages.]
Greek Catholic Archbishop Hilarion Capucci said today that the bodies of eight U.S. servicemen killed in the aborted mission to rescue the American hostages could be flown to Europe on Sunday or Monday. But others involved in arrangements to transfer the bodies said it will take two or three more days.
Eight days after the U.S. attempt rescue ended in flames and death, Iranian news media reported that investigators had found another incinerated body in the wreckage of a transport plane and a helicopter that collided at the rescue mission's desert landing site. Iranian authorities now say that the remains of 10 Americans have been recovered, while Washington insists that eight men died in the accident.
While the exact whereabouts of the 50 American hostages held since Nov. 4 remain unclear in the aftermath of the mission, a few details have trickled out about the militants Iranian captors' efforts to scatter the hostages across Iran. Independent witnesses have reported seeing two blindfolded hostages being led through the Tehran airport for a domestic flight two days ago.
The militants occupying the U.S. Embassy in Tehran said that a group of hostages transferred to Mashad in northeastern Iran are being held in the city's Chamber of Commerce building.
Militants said hostages transferred earlier to the southern city of Shiraz are being kept in the former U.S. consulate there. An abandoned U.S. consulate in Tabriz in northwestern Iran holds another group of captives, the militants have said.
Some hostages are reliably reported to be still in the embassy here despite militants' statements that all were dispersed to distant Iranian cities after the rescue attempt. However, it is not known how many captives are still at the embassy or who they are.
In his news conference, Ghotbzadeh defended the holding of American hostages by the militants and insisted that no parallel could be drawn with the seizure of Iranian diplomats in London.
"In Iran, it [the hostage-taking] is a reaction against 25 years of oppression and plundering by the United States," Ghotbzadeh said. "Over there, it is a clear-cut conspiracy by the same power against the young Islamic republic of Iran. The only thing they have in common are the words 'embassy' and 'hostages.'"
Ghotbzadeh said Iran had given the British government "total authority" to deal with the London embassy occupation, which Iranian authorities have blamed on Iraqi agents acting in the interest of the United States.
"With their experience, they [British authorities] said they are capable of resolving this problem," Ghotbzadeh said. "If they decide they can't, we will take things in hand ourselves and resolve the problem in the way we see fit."
He said that Iranians who have been demonstrating outside the London embassy "are willing to march in by force . . . to get killed to clean up the terrorists." Asked if encouraging such an action was what he meant by taking the matter into Iranian hands, Ghotbzadeh responded, "That's one of the ways, not the only way."
Ghotbzadeh, who returned from a tour of Arab countries yesterday, said that all the Persian Gulf states except the United Arab Emirates were following Iran's policy of cutting oil production. He said that even the United Arab Emirates had agreed not to increase production.