U.S. officials said yesterday that Ayatollah Khomeini's conditions for release of the American hostages could move the two countries closer to negotiations on the issue but noted that his remarks required "further exploration" to clear up ambiguities.
The cautious reaction came in the form of a brief State Department statement and private comments by senior government aides.
"It is not possible to draw definitive conclusions from this and other recent public statements without further exploration," the State Department announcement declared.
President Carter, questioned about Khomeini's speech after announcing new credits to Poland, said:
"We have learned to be very cautious about statements from Iran. We'll be monitoring what is going on and analyzing the statements."
A preliminary analysis by senior officials was that the financial conditions would be difficult to meet without extensive and complicated negotiations.
They pointed out that the initial condition -- return of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's property to Iran -- was beyond the means of the U.S. government. The location and amount of the shah's fortune outside Iran has remained a mystery since he fled from Tehran in January 1979. A suit brought in U.S. courts by the current Iranian government has yet to identify a single personal asset of the shah in this country. His wealth is widely assumed to be scattered in bank accounts, investments and real estate holdings in many parts of the world.
Also complicated is the ayatollah's demand for unblocking $8 billion in Iranian government assets held in U.S. banks and their branches overseas.
American banks and corporations currently areas seeking in U.S. courts to attach this money to cover outstanding loans, unpaid bills and property or equipment seized in Iran after the revolution.
More than 200 civil suits totaling some $5 billion in claims have been filed in this country.
However, opposition by the State Department and Treasury has persuaded federal judges to delay any ruling that would permit any of the funds from being allocated to any of these claims.
Recently, Treasury Secretary G. William Miller filed a confidential memo in New York City federal court to defer such action on grounds that it was "not in the interest of U.S. foreign policy." The concerns of Miller and of the State Department was that attachment of assets could upset sensitive diplomatic efforts to obtain the release of the 52 hostages.
A legal dilemma is that a lifting of the assets freeze by the administration would allow the companies to attach the assets, with the result that they could not be returned to Iran until the claims were settled in court.
Therefore, to forestall such a problem, some agreement would have to be worked out between the Iranian government and the suing U.S. firms.
Khomeini's third financial condition -- his demand that all American claims against Iran be cancelled -- also could pose a serious problem depending on what he meant.
The U.S. government has only minimal claims. But if Khomeini is referring to the vast corporate claims, the U.S. government has no direct authority to cancel them.
Though these problems are complicated, one senior official said yesterday, "There are things that can be done."
Early this year Ali Reza Nobari, head of Iran's central bank, asserted that "all just claims would be paid." At the same time, Iranian officials have insisted that U.S. banks unnecessarily declared their loans in default last November. The Iranians have released documents purporting to show that they were trying to pay back a key loan to Chase Manhattan on time when Chase declared the loan in default.
In warning against overoptimism, one official noted that it was important to know who wrote the financial portion of Khomeini's statement. The new conditions were contained in a report of the speech carried on Tehran radio and read by an announcer.