The newly elected parliament of Iran's Islamic revolution held opening ceremonies today, and the militants holding the U.S. Embassy promptly broadcast a warning that its members would have to justify any decision to release the American hostages without the return of the deposed shah and his wealth.
Although Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country's religious ruler, has said that the parliament will have responsibility for solving the 207-day-old hostage crisis, there was little indication today that the issue would be dealt with soon.
A message from the Khomeini, read to the 270 members of parliament by his son Ahmad, said their major task would be to improve the lot of Iran's poor. Presient Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, who addressed the opening session, also stressed the need for the legislators to concern themselves with the economy.
The militants holding the U.S. hostages said in their statement that they "are obligated religiously and legally" to abide by any decision on the hostages made by the parliament. Nonetheless, the session in the ornate room with the gold mosaic ceiling -- formerly used by the shah's rubberstamp Senate -- held little hope for the quick release of the 53 Americans.
While the speeches had little of the violently anti-American rhetoric often heard from politicians here, neither were there any signals given to the new legislators -- dominated by the hard-line clerical Islamic Republic Party -- that freeing the hostages was a top priority either for Khomeini or Bani-Sadr.
"Without those statements, a quick hostage release looks pretty bleak and the possibility of a trial is strong," said a diplomat who has kept a close eye on Iranian politics and the hostage situation. "There are lots of Islamic Republic Party members who believe the hostages should not be returned or are criminals that should be tried."
The statement by the militants, issued over the state radio after the opening of parliament, heightened the pessimism characterized by that prediction.
"As the leader of the revolution [Khomeini] has said, the hostages will not be freed unless the shah and his property are returned. Any decision other than this will have to be justified for the Iranian people with reasoning," the militants warned the newly elected parliamentarians.
The militants called the hostage decision "the greatest test for the Islamic National Assembly, which will show the power of Islam against blasphemy." They said that any decision to free the hostages "must be taken regardless of American seductions and the excuses of the great Satan."
"The enemy will not be satisfied with anything but our enslavement, so any decision about the hostages stemming from fear and threat of America will result in our mere surrender to America," the statement continued.
America's failure to rescue the hostages April 24, the militants said, proves "that the continuation of the hostage holding has no danger for Iran."
The message from Khomeini told the parliament members to "fear no one except God and stand against Satan's powers who were deciding our destinies during the past regime."
Following that line, Khomeini told the parliament to take an independent course in foreign policy that tilts neither East nor West.
After Khomeini's speech was read by his son, the assembly members -- many of them dressed in the white and blacks turbans of the religious mullahs -- burst into cries of "Allah is great, Khomeini is our leader."
"Khomeini, we are all listening to your words, as long as we have blood in our veins, Khomeini is our leader. Hail to Khomeini, hail to the martyrs," the chanting continued.
The two-hour ceremony was broadcast live by radio and television to a nation celebrating the birthday of Ali, the first imam of Shiite Moslems. It opened with the singing of verses from the Koran.
The representives of the Islamic Republic parliament looked somewhat out of place in the opulent surroundings of the Senate chamber with its plush settees and huge eight-branch chandelier. The lay members of parliament were mostly dressed in open-necked shirts, and some took off their jackets in the heat of the chamber. Unshaven Revolutionary Guards with pistols stuck in the waistbands, wandered around the hall.
By contrast, Tehran's shrinking diplomatic community sat stiff and solemn in one section, wearing jackets and ties. Other sections were reserved for chador-clad women and for religious leaders.
Bani-Sadr, whose efforts both to arrange for the release of the American hostages and to select a prime minister have been foiled in recent months by the clerical right-wingers dominating the parliament, said Iran's major problems are economic.
Most of the money needed to meet the budget, he said, is held in bank accounts abroad frozen by the United States as a result of the hostage taking. "From the point of view of the economy, we are in a difficult situation," he said.
He also alluded to the problems in provinces where Kurds are fighting for autonomy. He said he had told the Army not to harm people in Kurdistan, but the fighting of the Kurdish rebels has forced the military to shoot and take over cities.
"People of that region should know that this government will keep its force based on the constitution, and people shouldn't be afraid because we won't let them be in the hands of people harming them," he said.
He also called on the parliament to pass laws to improve the situation of the poor and said the foreign policy should make the country Islamic within Iran's borders, and should steer an even course between the Soviet Union and the United States.