With the Iranian parliament's long-postponed debate over the fate of 52 U.S. hostages only three days away, Iranian officials were clearly divided today over the possibility that the conditions set for their release might be stiffer than those proposed only a month ago by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself.
Parliament is finally to debate the hostage issue on Sunday in a session called to consider the report of a special commission that has been charged with framing conditions for resolving the situation. Comments by leading officials today indicated that a lively debate is likely among the revolutionary Iranian legislators. Khomeini has said that the parliament has the final power to decide the hostages' fate.
Majlis Speaker Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hasemi Rafsanjani, in an interview with the Paris newspaper Le Monde said that the four basic conditions set last month by Khomeini for the captives' release "are not necessarily exhaustive."
"It is probable that the deputies will have supplementary conditions to formulate within the framework of those already announced," Rafsanjani said in the interview in Tehran. Should these conditions prove unacceptable to Washington, other deputies said, then the captives might still be put on trial as had been previously threatened.
Khomeini's key aide on the parliamentary commission that has been dealing with the issue, Hojatoleslam Moussavi Khoeini, echoed Rafsanjani's statement that the Majlis' conditions would be within "the framework" of those outlined by Khomeini, but added a note in a more optimistic vein when he said, "They will not be higher."
Khoeini, in a telephone interview with United Press International, said, "None of the present conditions is tough for the United States. We want our rights guaranteed. We don't want to bring down the American government."
The more hard-line assessment, however, was supported by Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, a mullah from the ruling Islamic Republican Party, who is one of the seven members of the pariamentary commission which has just finished drawing up the conditions to be presented to the debate by the Majlis Sunday.
Asked in a telephone interview by the Associated Press whether he expected Washington to accept the conditions that his commission has drawn up, he said: "Maybe not now that some more will be added, for the conditions may not be limited to the four set by Khomeini."
Khomeini, in a speech Sept. 12, had stated that the hostages held by the Iranians since Nov. 4, could be freed if the United States agreed to the return to Iran of the late shah of Iran's wealth, to free the estimated $8 billion in assets frozen by the United States, and, to drop all legal claims against the Iranian nation and to promise not to interfere again in its internal affairs.
Wednesday, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Rajai raised hopes that a deal may have finally been struck with Washington by stating that it was his belief that Washington was "ready to meet" the basic principles of the conditions laid down by Iran's 80-year-old religious leader.
That optimism, however, was immediately brought into question by other leading brought into question by other leading Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, the powerful leader of the Islamic Republican Party, who publicly disputed that Washington was ready to meet Khomeini's basic conditons, much less any new ones that might be added.
Significantly President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, who at the start of the war with Iraq last month shifted his office to the city of Dezful in the embattled Iranian province of Khuzestan for the duration of the war, has yet to be heard from in the current flurry of discussion about a possible new deal that would free the hostages.
Aware of how his past initiatives to resolve the hostage crisis had been used to whittle down his powers and effectiveness, he appears to have chosen this time to remain at the war front in his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces while others argue the hostage issue.
Whether Rajai will now succeed where others, like Bani-Sadr, have failed to impose a solution, therefore, remains to be seen.
With Iran, after a month of war with Iraq, hurting economically, diplomatically and militarily from the international isolation that the hostage capture imposed, there are certainly plenty of valid and rational arguments to be mustered in the Majlis for a quick face-saving solution to the hostage crisis.
Valid and rational arguments, however, have not proven to be the strong suit of the zealous mullahs and revolutionaries who have been running Iran since the shah's downfall.
Even if there should be a Majlis decision that would prove acceptable to President Carter, there is still no certainty that the militants holding the hostages would agree to go along without intervention by Khomeini.
In his telephone interview with the Associated Press today, Nouri, who established himself as a mullah who presided over the trial of antirevolutionary terrorists belonging to the Forqan movement, predicted that the Majlis debate could last a week.Even then, he said, the issue might be referred back to a seven-member commission for further consideration.
Nouri also said that Washington would not only have to agree to the conditions imposed by the Majlis, but the ways that they would be carried out. c
"It is not enough just to say, we accept," Nouri said, "because our conditions are put in a special way that will be known later."
If Washington fails to agree to such terms, Nouri warned, "Our first decision will be put in force, the question of a trial."
If on the other hand, the United States accepted the deal quickly, the hostage could be freed almost immediately. "If the United States acts in one minute," Nouri said, "then we will free them [the hostages] the next moment."