Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said today that the U.S. hostages would be freed if the United States returned the property of the late shah, canceled its claims against Iran, released frozen Iranian assets and promised not to intervene politically or militarily in the country.
Khomeini's statement, which was read by an announcer on the official radio, did not mention a frequent Iranian demand that the United States apologize for "crimes" in supporting the late shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Nor did Khomeini speak of any hostage trial, an action promoted vigorously by the militant Moslem students occupying the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
It was not immediately clear whether the omissions in Khomeini's message represented a crucial change in the Iranian position or an oversight by the 80-year-old ayatollah.
The Carter administration has refused to issue any apology to Iran and has strongly warned the Iranians not to put the U.S. hostages on trial.
[U.S. officials said yesterday that Khomeini's conditions on release of the hostages could move the two countries closer to talks on the issue but added that his remarks required "further exploration" to clear up ambiguities. Details on Page A-18.]
Khomeini's message, addressed to world Moslems to mark the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, reiterated his longstanding position that it is Iran's new parliament that must finally decide the fate of the hostages.
Khomeini said the seizure of the hostages last Nov. 4 "was the natural reaction of our nation against the damage that the U.S.A. inflicted on our country."
He added, "They will be released by returning the property of the defunct shah, cancellation of all American claims against Iran, guaranteeing U.S. political and military nonintervention in Iran and freeing all our assets."
Recalling that he had previously charged that Majlis, or parliament, with responsibility for deciding what to do with the hostages, Khomeini said, "Of course, I have asked the Majlis to go through this case and to act in any way they consider will be in the interest of the nation."
Khomeini's message was greeted with varying interpretations among both Iranians and foreign observers in Tehran.
A spokesman for Khomeini's office suggested that the remarks were a deliberate and dramatic intervention in the 10-month-old hostage crisis and amounted to "a kind of amnesty for the hostages" on the occasion of the pilgrimage to Mecca, Reuter news agency reported.
However, the agency quoted a well-informed source close to the Majlis Foreign Relations Commission as saying it would be wrong to assume that the ayatollah's conditions were final. The committee is expected to recommend on Sunday that the assembly begin discussing the hostage issue.
"We will add other demands," the source told Reuter. He said one of them would be for a U.S. apology for past American involvement in Iranian affairs.
"The iman's [Khomeini's] statement will have a positive effect on solving the problem because he has given us his guidance," the source said. "But he has not ordered or asked the Majlis to do anything else. We will definitely want an apology."
A spokesman for the militants occupying the U.S. Embassy also said the ayatollah's terms would be "the minimum decision of the Majlis." He said the students would release the hostages if the United States accepted the terms set by parliament.
Moderate politicians such as President abol Hassan Bani-Sadr and Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh have said they believe the continuation of the hostage crisis is seriously damaging Iran both politically and economically.
Ayatollah Khomeini's message came as State Department analysts were poring over a statement in Qom by Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Rajai, who suggested that negotiations on the hostages could begin if the United States "repented" for its policies toward Iran.
The Majlis Foreign Relations Commission, in the draft response 11 days ago to a letter from 187 U.S. congressman who appealed for the release of the captives, also called for Washington to acknowledge past wrongdoings in Iran.
Whatever the U.S. decision on this aspect of Iran's demands, the insistence on Financial reparations could raise formidable technical and legal problems.
Iran most recently has asked for the return of $3 billion it says the shah possessed. Spokesmen for the shah have put the monarch's wealth at less than $200 million.
The Carter administration has said it recognizes Iran's right to bring suit in the courts against the shah's estate, but such an action could take years to settle.
The same could be true of the more than 200 private claims against the estimated $8 billion in Iranian assets frozen in U.S. banks by President Carter last November 14. Releasing the assets appears to present less of a problem.
In his message, Khomeini said the hostages, now in their 314th day of captivity, had been treated well by their captors. But he charged that "the U.S. and its satellites" had falsely alleged the opposite.
He accused the United States and Britain of torturing and insulting Iranian students arrested during demonstrations in Washington and London several weeks ago.
"The U.S. is the first enemy of all the deprived people of the world," he declared. "All Moslem nations must know that Iran is a country that is officially fighting with the United States . . . You in the nonaligned countries know that the U.S. wants to destroy us, so help us in our objectives."