Iran's parliament will decide the issue of the American hostages "only when demands are met by the United States," its speaker, Hojatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, said yesterday.
Rafsanjani also said that the conflict with neighboring Iraq was likely to affect the hostage issue because "Iraq's position is close to that of the United States.
While it was not clear whether Rafsanjani's statement had the backing of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's religious ruler, and the parliament, it was nonethless a restating of the hardest Iranian line on the return of the hostages after a week in which there had appeared to be some movement toward a resolution of the issue.
While Rafsanjani said today that parliament will decide the hostage issue only when demands are met, Khomeini last week had said that the hostages would be freed when the demands were met.
Khomeini listed the demands as the return of the property of the late shah, cancellation of U.S. claims against Iran, the release of frozen Iranian assets and a U.S. promise not to intervene politically or militarily in the country.
The speaker of Iran's parliament made his comments as 30 legislators visited the occupied U.S. Embassy in Tehran where at least some of the 52 American hostages seized by Iranian militants Nov. 4 are being held.
"We did not see the hostages and do not know how their health condition is," gathered outside the embassy. Earlier Rafsanjani had said that "the deputies may talk to the hostages if they feel it is necessary for getting more information on the hostates."
"The stated reason for the embassy visit, according to reports from Tehran, was to allow the deputies to see "espionage equipment and related documents" at the U.S. compound.
The parliament has been given responsibility for deciding the fate of the hostages and Rafsanjani said it would resume debating the issue today.
He said, however, that it would make a decision on them "only when demands are met by the U.S., especially our demand for the return of the shah's wealth, which was put forward by Imam Khomeini, and the parliament will insist on that."
Initially the United States has said it would demand release of the hostages before it would consider meeting any of Iran's own demands. Last week, however, U.S. officials said they would simply insist that Iran agree to release the hostages as part of the process of a larger effort to resolve differences between the two countries.
Khomeini has ordered the parliament to decide the fate of the hostages and many of the deputies have said they favor spy trials for the Americans.
In its first action on the issue, the parliament last week voted to form a special commission to study the issue in preparation for the legislative debate. But since then the Iranian concern the shifted to the intensifying border war with Iraq.
Rafsanjani said yesterday that he had delivered 27 letters from the hostages' families to the militants with instructions that the letters be handed to the captives.
It is not known how many of the 52 are still in the occupied American Embassy. At least twice since the unsuccessful U.S. effort to free the hostages in April, the militants have said they were dispersing the hostages trhoughout the country.
As for as is known, no one other than the captors have seen the hostages in five months.
Meanwhile, an Arab magazine published in London said Iranian leader Khomeini has "finally agreed" that the hostages should be released within six weeks. An article in the newsweekly 8 Days predicted negotiations would resume early in October in what it called "a frantic race to beat the U.S. presidential election."
There was no confirmation of the magazine's account, which added that there have already been three months of "secret exchanges" between the State Department and former Iranian foreign minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh.
The unsigned article was written by a special correspondent with information from sources in Iran and Europe, editor Tony Hall said.