Barring an unforseen improvement in his fortunes, Iran's president and main proponent of a settlement of the U.S. hostage crisis seems destined to become a spent force in Iranian politics.
Now poised to stake claims to secular leadership in view of President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr's declining authority is an emerging group that includes former Navy commander Rear Adm. Ahmad Madani, Defense Minister Mustafa Ali Chamran, Revolutionary Council spokesman Hassan Habibi, Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh adn former deputy prime minister Sadegh Tabatabai.
For the United States, the negative implications of Bani-Sadr's losing struggle with Moslem clerical rivals are clear, if not new. The long humiliation of the leading advocate of a rapid settlement of the crisis with the United States means that the American hostages are likley to remain here until the continuing power struggle has been decided.
That could well last far beyond the convening next month of the new parliament to which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has entrusted the fate of the hostages.
The latest in a series of setbacks for Bani-Sadr was his failure to impose a new government before the convening of the parliament, which is certain to be dominated by his right-wing clerical rivals of the Islamic Republican Party.
But the new element that emerged from the fiasco of his abortive preemptive coup against the Islamic Republicans was his inability to rally support from hitherto neutral or friendly forces who also oppose the clerical party.
Their refusal to cooperate with Bani-Sadr was not motivated by his barely constitutional maneuver -- some friends privately even called it a "trick" -- aimed at undercutting the Islamic Republican Party's working parliamentary majority.
Rather it was based on cold calculation, according to insiders.
As tough, pragmatic, even cynical political realists, the members of the emerging group have no faith in the effectiveness of the utopian policies of the president and his radical young advisers sometimes known collectively as the "Stanford Mafia" because some were educated at that American university.
In what some cynics took as Bani-Sadr's political epitaph, the president wrote in his newspaper Islamic Revolution that a recent, apparently government-conducted, opinion poll showed a "patent tendency" for a prime minister representing "security, order and moderation."
In the present situation, as Bani-Sadr made clear, that reflected a growing public reaction to the Islamic Republican Party and mullahs in politics.
The emerging group certainly thinks of itself as filling that bill and has the advantage of relative political virginity in the case of some of its more prominent members such as Chamran and Madani.
Whatever divided them in the past, today they share a common rightwing, modernist, anticlerical view of the revolution that pleases the important bazaar traders fed up with Bani-Sadr's nationalizations and other radical economic policies.
Still unclear is whether they have any real chance of prevailing or will be swept aside by yet another group.
That has been the fate of Mehdi Bazargan, the first postrevolutionary prime minister, and now seems likely to be Bani-Sadr's.
Less than four months after winning the presidency with 75 percent of the vote, he seems condemned to largely ceremonial functions in the future with real power exercised through a prime minister blessed by Khomeini.
Can Bazargan and now Bani-Sadr and their political allies -- only months ago at each other's throats -- be counted on to aid the emerging group in hopes of stopping the Islamic Republican Party, which claims 130 of the 270 new parliamentary seats.
From a narrowly American viewpoint it seems to make little difference which group comes out on top as long as Iran's continuing paralysis is ended.
The election of the new parliament at best has concentrated the minds of all parties and made them realize how beside the point is their talk of putting the hostages on trial, or even selling them back to the United States.
For analysts are convinced that Khomeini's official desire for parliament to settle the hostage crisis is disingenous. The inexperienced legislators may well follow any demonstrably strong lead.
As has been made increasingly clear ever since the embassy was seized Nov. 4, the American hostages are pawns in Iran's yet undecided revolutionary power struggle.
Once the power struggle is ended, analysts are convinced, the hostages' ordeal will too, but not before.