Amid charges that he is a traitor who has hurt American interests abroad, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark yesterday stongly defended his recent visit to Iran in defiance of President Carter's ban on travel to that country by U.S. citizens.
Clark was part of a 10-member, self-appointed U.S. delegation that went to Iran last week to attend a conference on Iranian grievances against the United States.
Speaking on "Issues and Answers" (ABC, WFLA) in a live television interview broadcast from Paris, Clark said he thinks his trip "did some good."
He said the presence of the U.S. representatives at the Tehran meeting helped persuade 12 other delegations to adopt a resolution calling for the "rapid release" of the 53 Americans who have been held hostage in Iran since last November.
Clark was in Paris on a two-day stopover before returning home.
His trip produced sharp criticism from Sen. Bob Dole- (R-Kan.), who last week called the American delegation's actions "a flagrant breach of loyalty" and urged a Justice Department investigation.
Similar comments came yesterday from Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.), who said Clark's trip to Iran "certainly is seditious in my view."
Tower, speaking on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM) also said he thought Clark's trip should be investigated to "determine whether or not any law was breached."
Before Clark and his colleagues left last week for the Tehran conference, they were warned by the Justice Department that each could be liable for a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $50,000 for violating the administration's ban on travel to Iran by U.S. citizens, except journalists.
Clark said yesterday he is not concerned about the possible $50,000 fine "because I don't have the money." But, he said: "I do have 10 years . . . I hope."
Do you think you will be prosecuted?" Clark was asked.
"That's for the Justice Department to decide," he said.
"Are you prepared for prosecution?" came another question.
"Do you have a choice?" Clark responded.
"What will be your defense?" he was asked.
Clark, who has built a reputation fighting for domestic civil rights and other liberal causes, answered slowly:
"My defense will be that America was founded on freedom, that we have a constitution, that the inherent rights of our citizens include the right to travel, the right to assemble, the right to speak, that we believe that the exercise of those rights is essential to human fulfillment.
"I have done those things and I will continue to do them."
Allegations that he and the other Americans went to the Tehran meeting to set U.S. foreign policy or to interfere in administration efforts to win release of the hostages are unfounded, Clark said.
"We went to a little convention, and you don't expect miracles at something like that, do you?" he said.
Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie said Yesterday that the administration's policy against unauthorized travel to Iran is in force, "principally because we are concerned about the safety of Americans traveling in a country where there is anti-American hostility."
"The purpose of the policy is not to punish people who violate it, but to prevent people from going," Muskie said on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC).
Clark said he would have gone to the "little convention" even if there were no American hostages in Iran because he believes the Iranians have some legitimate complaints about U.S. involvement in their country's internal affairs.
Specifically, clark said he believes that the U.S. government erred seriously in supporting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was toppled from power in the Iranian revolution last year.
"For 25 years, the United States government violated every principle for which it stands," he said of this nation's support of the shah. "We preach democracy, we love democracy, we are a democracy, and we supported a tyrant."
That is not to say that the present government in Iran is any better than the one it replaced, Clark added. But he said the two basic lessons of Iran are that no country has the right to interfere with the government of another, and that "no country, no government, can have real strength where it is not supported by the people."
Iran's current leaders "know that holding the hostages is wrong," Clark said. But he said the hostage crisis continues because Iranians "think that we don't care about 70,000 of their people who were killed," allegedly by the shah.