The United States yesterday reaffirmed its willingness to have Iran's grievances examined in an international forum, and U.S. officials noted that they have made this offer repeatedly in an effort to win release of the American hostages in Iran.
The officials made these points after the news service Agence France-Presse reported that Iranian President Abol Hassan Band-Sadr, in an interview, had said the United States "accepted the principle of an inquiry commission." He also was quoted as saying that would satisfy Iran's demands concerning "America's crimes" in that country.
According to the French news agency, Bani-Sadr said the U.S. acceptance of the commission idea had been relayed to him by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Erik Lang.
U.S. officials publicly refused comment on that aspect of Bani-Sadr's comments. Privately, though, reliable sources said Lang had been in contact with Bani-Sadr as part of the U.S. effort to establish a negotiating channel with the Iranians and had reiterated that the American offer on an inquiry still stands.
But, the sources added, despite the impression given by Bani-Sadr that some new proposal is on the table, the U.S. position on a commission inquiry remains unchanged from that which the Carter administration has enunciated several times since the early days of the hostage crisis.
In fact, a commission of U.N. representatives attempted to initiate such an inquiry in Tehran early this year, but its efforts were put into abeyance when the hostages' militant captors refused to turn th prisoners over to the Iranian government or to permit the commission members to visit the captives.
That was noted yesterday by State Department spokesman John Trattner, who said, "We have been willing all along to hear Iran's grievances aired in an appropriate international forum, such as the U.N. commission, but in the context of the release of the hostages."
U.S. officials, eelaborating privately on his statement, said Iranian agreement to this quid pro quo -- the freeing of the hostages as part of the process -- remains a condition that must be satisfied before the United States will allow the U.N. commission to resume its work or have the inquiry transferred to some other forum.
As Trattner said, "There are at this moment no U.S. proposals, no ongoing negotiations and no direct channel of communication."
Still, the officials said Bani-Sadr's comments appeared, on their face, to be another of the encouraging hints coming out of Tehran in recent days that the Iranians might finally be positioning themselves to dispose of the hostage question.
The officials were quick to add, though, that Iranian intentions still, are unclear, that the United States has yet to receive any response to its bid for negotiations and that it is far too premature to raise expectations that the 10-month deadlock over the hostages might be nearing an end.