Iran's embattled president, Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, took the offensive against his clerical opponents today, appealing to religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to give him "the tools" to govern effectively.
Responding to Khomeini's criticism of him and various ministries for failing to wipe out the remnants of the reign of the ousted shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Bani-Sadr complained, "I cannot do anything if the tools are in other people's hands and the responsibility only rests in mine." He added that he pointed this out to Khomeini in a meeting yesterday.
The target of the president's remarks was the clerical based Islamic Republican Party, led by Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, which appears to have the tacit support of Khomeini and has blocked Bani-Sadr's attempts to form a government.
The deadlock has led to a situation in which Iran has no effective government and little prospect of achieving one soon because of difficulty in establishing the recently elected parliament. Khomeini, who holds ultimate authority, has given parliament responsibility for deciding the fate of the 53 American hostages who have been held almost eight months.
Bani-Sadr's remarks in an interview with the official Pars News Agency, emphasized how chaotic the situation is within the government.
The president divorced himself from the activities of government ministers, saying, "I didn't appoint them, and I am not responsibile for them."
He pointed out that when he was elected in January, the ministers were already in office as part of the government of then-prime minister Mehdi Bazargan, who resigned after the seizure of the American Embassy by Moslem Militants last November. Many of the ministers support Beheshti's Islamic Republican Party, and some were forced on Bazargan by the mullahs.
Bani-Sadr gave the interview to Pars Yesterday, but it was first released over the state-run radio this afternoon.
In the evening news, neither the radio nor the television, both controlled by the clergy, made any reference to Bani-Sadr's interview. Both, however, gave prominence to an editorial that attacked the president without naming him by criticizing his idea that force should not be used in the continuing purge of officials who served under the shah.
The broadcasting tactics are just part of what a Western diplomat called "the struggle for power in every fields of state activity between the clergy and Bani-Sadr."
So far, most of the battles have been won by Beheshti, whose ideas of Islamic rule are a far cry from Western or even Eastern concepts of government. He recently corrected a diplomat who was talking about the Iranian government by interjecting, "There is no government in Iran; we just have leadership."
The vacuum in leadership, however, is leading to increasing complaints from Iranians. Some diplomats think Khomeini's attack Friday may be an indication of his concern that public discontent will reach him.
Bani-sadr's critical remarks today came just two days after a speech in which he said his resignation was on file with Khomeini to be put into effect at any time the Ayatollah wanted.
Observers did not take the officer seriously, however. It was noted that such offers of resignation have long been a feature of Iranian politics.
In language befitting the chaotic nature of rule in Iran, an aide to Bani-Sadr explained away the resignation offer by saying, "In Iran people say a lot of things but mean other things." The official declined to elaborate about "other things," but one possible explanation is that even Khomeini could not afford a resignation by Bani-Sadr, the country's highest elected official.
Bani-Sadr has generally been regarded as a weak leader compared to Beheshti, whose party has the most seats in parliament, but there are indications that the president is determined to fight.
He sounded angry in his Friday speech, according to some listeners. In the interview, the president accused his opponents of blaming him for their own mistakes.
"One must ask what they have done in their own offices, what they have been up to," he said.
Bani-Sadr specifically cited Khomeini's call for removal of all important insignia of the shah's government. He said he told the Ayatollah that such an order had been sent 20 days ago to the ministers who then complained to Khomeini about the lack of action.
"Now we must grab [the ministers] by the collar," Bani-Sadr said. "Why grab me by the collar?"
Some government ministries gave great fanfare to the implementation of the order to remove the shah's emblem, a lion and sun topped by a crown. The Foreign Ministry the only one to be singled out for specific criticism by Khomeini, said all embassies have been ordered to remove the imperial crest current passports. The Agricultural Ministry said it today fired 300 employes associated with the former government, and the Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Telephone said it had dismissed 340.
Stamps and air letters bearing the imperial insignia were delcared invalid.
New stationery has been printed with a Koranic symbol and the motto of the Islamic republic "God is Great."
A visit to one ministry, however, revealed that some old stationery was still in use, although it was explained that this was simply for internal memoranda and that the insignia would be trimmed off.
It might be difficult to have a meal in the ministry's formal dining room, however. The china on display was all embossed in gold with the royal seal.