President Carter declared today that recent statements from Iran "may very well lead to a resolution" of the crisis in which 52 Americans have been held hostage for more than 10 months.
And in a town meeting laced with election-year politics, Carter also rebuked his Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan, for having made point-by-point responses to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's recent statement of four conditions for the release of the hostages.
Both Carter statements were in marked contrast to the line taken today by Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie. Muskie said it would be a mistake to raise expectations about the hostages on the basis of available evidence about Iranian intentions, and speaking of Reagan's comments on Iran, said, "I don't find it unhelpful." (Details on Page A20).
During the town meeting, the president offered no elaboration for his optimism, which came a day before the scheduled opening of the Iranian Parliament's debate on the fate of the hostages.
But responding to a question about the Iranian hostage situation, Carter said, "They are making statements in Iran that may very well lead to a resolution of this problem in the future."
He then added: "The last thing that any political candidate ought to do, including an incumbent president, is to get into a negotiation with Iranian authorities through public statements or the news media."
Carter said it would be a "serious mistake" for him to make public statements about which points he would or would not accept.
While Muskie denied that his caution necessarily was in conflict with the president's statements, he said repeatedly at a Washington news conference that the kind of statements now coming out of Iran have been heard before without leading to any movement on the hostages.
The also asserted that, despite repeated U.S. efforts to open a channel to Tehran, there is nothing going on that could be described as active negotiations over the hostages' fate.
On Friday, Khomeini declared that the Americans being held hostage could be released if the United States returned the property that the late shah removed from Iran, ended its freeze on Iranian assets in the United States, withdrew its financial claims against Iran, and pledged that it would not interfere in Iran's internal affairs through either military or political activity.
The ayatollah specifically did not mention his demand, often repeated in the past, that the United States must apologize for previous American intervention in Iran.
The president's optimistic remark today was apparently partly in reference to this most recent statement by Khomeini.
After responding to questions from 15 citizens at a town meeting in Corpus Christi's Moody High School gymnasium, Carter told his audience that the event was his 25th town meeting. On Thursday, he said, he will hold his 59th news conference. Then Carter went on to chide Reagan for having been shielded by his aides from questions from the public and the press ever since Reagan's earlier campaign slips.
Carter said it is "important for a president -- important for anyone trying to be president" to be cross-examined" publicly.
"You probably noticed that the campaign staff of my Republican opponent have put him under wraps," Carter said. He told his audience that this was because Reagan had "gotten himself in trouble" in his earlier gaffes. And, showing no reluctance to drive his point home. Carter added that a president must be able to respond "accurately" without making statements that "embarrass" himself or his country.
Later, answering questions from reporters at the airport in Houston, where he spoke to a fund-raiser and a rally of his volunteers, the president declared that he believes a special prosecutor's investigation will show that his former campaign manager, Tim Kraft, is innocent of an allegation that he used cocaine on one occasion more than two years ago.
Kraft stepped down Sunday as Carter's campaign manager, taking a leave of absence until the investigation is completed.
"Tim has denied the charges and says he's completely innocent and I think the investigation will show that that's the case," Carter said. He added that he did not want to prejudge the case, but that he had confidence in Kraft.
The president also pressed his political attack against his opponent's economic plan, charging that Reagan's proposal to cut taxes would benefit the rich and boost inflation.
Carter said that Reagan has not detailed how he would offset his tax cut by trimming federal spending by $92 billion. "That's a mystery," Carter said, "because nobody's been able to pin him down yet and say, 'What are you going to cut out of the federal government that amounts to $92 billion a year?'"
Asked about busing, Carter warned his questioner that "I am going to be frank with you and say some things I might get in trouble about." He then declared that he does not believe busing is the best way to solve desegregation problems. And, in this campaign season, Carter came out strongly instead for what he said is most needed -- "a sense of commitment" and "good will among parents and students of all races."
The president won his most enthusiastic applause of the day when a teen-aged boy asked if he believed federal funds should be used for private elementary and secondary schools. Carter said no. He then asked the boy whether he had ever gone to public school. The teen-ager said he had, for two years, and that "those two years were probably a dormant stage in my education."
The audience greeted the youth's comment with derisive laughter. And when Carter told the youth he wanted to use federal funds to make sure that there was always a good public school available for him or his children in case they could no longer afford the private academy, the audience gave Carter a thunderous ovation.