Members of the newly constituted Iranian parliament heard a direct appeal today from 187 U.S. congressmen for an early discussion of the fate of the American hostages. They then were told that the subject would come up for debate soon.
Dozens of deputies sprang to their feet to speak after the letter from the American legislators was read, but the speaker of the Majlis (parliament), refused to recognize them, saying it was premature to open debate today. He told the assembly he felt Congress could help most by telling Americans that their government had "lied" about the causes of the Iranian crisis.
In the letter, dated July 2, the congressmen said they shared with the members of the Iranian parliament "a deep understanding of the magnitude of the responsibilities which you have assumed as the elected representatives of your people."
The letter, transmitted through the Swiss Embassy, is one of the first known public contacts between any U.S. and Iranian officials on the hostage issue in some time.
The congressmen said they had "deep concern about the deterioration of our relationships" because of the hostages, and warned the parliament that the holding of the hostages had not only led to a breakdown of bilateral relations but also "created a critical global issue."
Without naming the Soviet Union, the letter pointed to the danger of "growing hegemony and expansionism" and said it would be in the interests of both nations to resolve the hostage question in view of "the more imposing threats to world peace."
The congressmen concluded with a request that their Iranian counterparts give "highest and earliest priority" to the hostage issue.
The letter, which was delivered by the Swiss charge d'affaires yesterday, was drafted by Rep. Benjamin Gilman (D-N.Y.) and circulated on the floor of the House for three weeks, according to a Gilman aide. It contained 187 signatues, including that of Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.). Among those not signing were Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), Majority Leader James Wright (D-Tex.) and International Relations Committee Chairman Clement J. Zabblocki (D-Wis.). The letter's signers represented a broad spectrum of liberals, moderates and conservatives from both parties. Gilman's aide said the congressman had kept the State Department "appraised" of the project, which was described as "an independent venture on a legislator-to-legislator basis." The aide said Gilman was pleased that the letter had been read openly.
Hojatolesam Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Majlis, said the U.S. government had lied in saying it was trying to defuse the crisis. Instead, the United States had aggravated the problem, he said. He cited past American involvement -- "bloodshed, wealth taken" -- and a long list of more recent actions.
Rafsanjani included the freezing of Iranian assets, the reneging on contracts for spare parts, pressure on allies to boycott Iran, "misleading propaganda" on the abortive April rescue attempts, involvement with Iraq in the recent alleged coup plot, and the economic boycott.
He said this was his personal view, not the view of the parliament, and he expressed it to the Swiss diplomat who passed on the letter.
One of the hard-line members of the Islamic Republican Party leadership in parliament, Dr. Hassan Ayat, said the hostages "could be freed if the United States gave back the Iranian riches stolen by the shah and promised to stay away from Iran's internal affairs."
He added: "We don't want to try the hostages but rather put America on trial for the crimes it has committed in Iran over the past 35 years."
Ayat, who is one of President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr's most implacable opponents, also said it might take a few weeks to sort out the impasse over who should become prime minister.
The president and the parliament, which is dominated by the Islamic Republican Party, are locked in a dispute on the issue. Bani-Sadr reluctantly nominated Mostafa Mir-Salim, a party member. He also hinted, however, that he had been forced into it and might not accept responsibility for the subsequent government, which could be dominated by Islamic fundamentalists.
Parliament did not endorse Mir-Salim. The president asked it to postpone the vote of confidence and work with a joint commission to get prospective prime ministers. The Islamic party has been promoting its preferred candidate, Jaleleddin Farsi, an uncompromising hard-liner who has said he would find it almost impossible to work with Bani-Sadr.
Ayat accused "certain people" around Bani-Sadr of impeding the smooth working of the constitution, and said the parliament could use the guidance of the constitution to solve the problem.
"There is a provision in the constitution by which a president can be removed and a new president elected," he said.
Article 110 of the constitution gives one of the duties of the leadership (meaning Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) as "dismissal of the president with due consideration to the interests of the country, after the Supreme Court has ruled that he has departed from his legal duties or after the Majlis has ruled as to his political incapability."
Bani-Sadr, in a series of articles in his newspaper Islamic Revolution, said the people "do not want to see Iran turned into a battlefield between political groups," and such a confrontation would lead to breakdown.
Unless the people are certain that the government when it comes to power is in coordination with the president, they will not accept it. Eleven million people did not vote for a statue," he said.